Des Plaines' First Movie Theaters
The mostly forgotten Geisen Saloon and Echo Theatre were hot spots in their days.
The first movies in Des Plaines were shown at this building which stood at the Northeast corner of Miner and Pearson Streets. This was the Geisen Saloon, and it is considered the first entertainment venue in the city. The front of the building contained a saloon with boarding rooms above; an annex to the rear had stables on the first floor and a public hall on the second. While this was mainly used for dances and meetings, it would also be Des Plaines' first movie house. A local dentist, Dr. Melze, started showing movies here probably around 1910.
This proved successful enough that in February, 1913, he opened Des Plaines' first dedicated movie theatre, the Echo on Lee Street. It had an unusual, somewhat crude architectural style, almost Elizabethan.
It sat about 650 people. Several photos have been found depicting inside the Echo, but none inside the Des Plaines Theatre. One of the first shows at the Echo was the Congregational Church choir's production of the Echo. In addition to movies and vaudeville - .15 cents for the matinee, .25 for the evening show - the Echo also served its community, providing a home for local productions, special shows, and even the Christian Science church before it had an edifice.
The Echo did quite well until the Des Plaines Theatre opened. It held bond drives for World War I. It was very much a small town operation - film was scarce and sometimes showings would be interrupted to wait for the next reel of film to arrive on the train.
There were a few other spaces in downtown as well. There was Hoffman Hall, located on Ellinwood Street, used for dances and meetings.
Dances and meetings were also sometimes held at the Village Hall, to raise money for the often cash-strapped Village. Beyond that, there were a few small bowling alleys or Riverview Village Hall as well as outlying roadhouses like the Stellman Buffet in Orchard Place or the Ballard Inn.
Needless to say, the Des Plaines Theatre's opening made a big impact on the clearly outclassed, 12-year-old Echo Theatre. The manager, W.C. Magee, chose to update the theatre by tearing down the front section and replacing it with a new Georgian style front. The theatre itself was redecorated in silver and black. Unfortunately, a new front and cut rate prices couldn't save it.
It closed and reopened in 1933 under new management from an experienced Chicago operator named Cooney, who announced a name change to the Roxie but didn't go through with it. He met with some success, but it was short-lived. The theatre was purchased by the same company, H&E Balaban, that purchased the Des Plaines Theatre in 1935, and was reopened as a bargain house, but closed again for good in 1936. The auditorium was used as a warehouse for the neighboring Sheppard's Furniture until it was demolished in 1963; the downtown post office now occupies the land where its auditorium stood and the stage building still stands vacant. The old lobby remains largely intact as a conference room at Athena Investments, LLC.