Historic Structures

Granada Theatre, Chicago Illinois

Date added: July 9, 2021 Categories: Illinois Theater

The Granada Theater was constructed in 1926 for the Marks Brothers (Louis and Meyer), who at that time were among the major theater owner/operators in Chicago. The Architects were Levy & Klein with Edward E. Eichenbaum as the principal designer.

The Theater was operated by the Marks Brothers until 1934, when it was purchased by Balaban and Katz, a Chicago based movie theater firm which operated theaters throughout the United States. Their theaters exhibited films produced by Paramount Pictures. That firm later became ABC-Great Lakes Theaters and held title to the Granada until 1973. It was then sold through a blind trust to a group who proposed to use it for rock concerts, but that use was never realized. Several other potential purchasers attempted to revitalize the Granada between 1973 and 1987. None were successful. In 1988, an agreement was reached whereby it was acquired by Senior Life Styles Corporation. They demolished the building in 1989 and constructed an apartment/commercial structure on the site in 1990. An earlier plan to incorporate a portion of the theater into the new structure proved to be unfeasible.

It was one of the three largest movie theaters ever built in Chicago, the others being the Uptown and the Chicago Theaters. It was the flagship of the movie empire of the Marks Brothers of Chicago, who were second only to Balaban and Katz in the construction and operation of opulent movie palaces during the decade of the 1920's.

The Granada had survived in essentially unaltered condition until 1988-1989), when it was left unattended and the weather and vandalism were allowed to proceed unchecked. At the time of its demolition it was largely in ruins. None of the building's systems were operable and virtually any salvageable part of the interior which could be removed had been stolen. Water infiltration had been particularly harmful and most surfaces had some degree of damage.

When the Grenada was opened in 1926, its location at a major elevated train stop and at the confluence of several bus lines, plus the presence of a large parking lot, provided all the convenience of location desired. By the 1980's the theater was difficult to reach and parking was non-existent.

The Marks Brothers, Louis and Meyer, were among the first businessmen to recognize the potential of movies as a major public entertainment vehicle. They started their business circa 1910 by establishing several "nickelodeon" parlors in Chicago showing brief films to individual patrons via coin activated machines. In 1914 they built the Gold Theater (now demolished) on Roosevelt Road in Chicago. It was designed by Architect Alexander Levy with whom they established a long and mutually satisfactory relationship. This large screen theater had the capability of showing feature films to large audiences. They continued to build, own, and operate nickelodeons until the early 1920's when they embarked on a massive expansion by building several movie palaces. The largest was the Granada, but the Marbro, the Regal, the Diversey, and others, all have been razed or grossly remodeled.

The Marks Brothers were in direct competition with Balaban and Katz, the largest operators of movie theaters in Chicago. Balaban and Katz were well financed and had excellent contacts with the movie making industry, including a direct relationship with the group that became Paramount Pictures. Ultimately, Balaban and Katz won the battle with the Marks Brothers and purchased several of their properties in 1934, including the Granada Theater.

The Marks Brothers organization was renamed Marks & Rosenfield Theaters and survives today as M & R Amusement Company.

The firm of Levy and Klein, Architects, was organized in 1924, and remained active until the mid-1930's, when the firm was dissolved. The Granada Theater was their first large movie palace and credit for its design is generally accorded to Edward C. Eichenbaum. Levy and Klein had a diverse and successful practice prior to receiving the commission for the Granada. They completed the Wacker Hotel the same year (1926) as the Granada and had been responsible for a number of other structures, often industrial in nature. Alexander Levy had designed Chicago's Gold Theater in 1914 at the time he was practicing alone. Following that work and shortly after Levy and Klein started practicing architecture together, they designed a number of Chicago "nickelodeon" parlors, the precursor of the modern movie theater. It was this experience which brought them to the attention of the Marks Brothers and to their largest commission to date. Following the Granada, the firm designed in rapid succession, the Marbro, the Diversey, the Century, and the Regal theaters, all of which have either been razed or completely altered from their original configuration. Edward Eichenbaum was the designer of all these structures. Messrs. Levy and Klein were the business and engineering partners of the firm.

Alexander L. Levy was born in Brookfield, Missouri in 1872. He was educated in the public schools of Brookfield, and attended the University of Illinois, where he received an A.B. degree. He then came to Chicago where he taught school for several years prior to beginning the practice of architecture. He received his license in 1897 when the Illinois Architects Act was first enacted. An early commission was the Marks Nathan Orphan Home, an organization in which he maintained a lifelong interest and served as a director for many years. He was active in community affairs which brought him to the attention of his numerous clients. Mr. Levy died circa 1955.

William J. Klein was generally regarded as the engineer of the firm, although he was a licensed architect in Illinois. He received that license in 1917. During 1918-19 he practiced in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. In 1920 he joined the office of Alexander L. Levy in Chicago, and by 1924 he was a partner. The firm prospered for the next ten years, but was dissolved in circa 1935 when the depression had an adverse effect and Mr. Levy elected to retire. Mr. Klein died circa 1970.

Edward E. Eichenbaum was born in Cleveland in 1897. After attending school in Cleveland and graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Eichenbaum entered the office of Albert Kahn in Detroit. Following his apprenticeship with Kahn, he relocated to Chicago where he joined Levy & Klein, Architects, circa 1924. He became a licensed architect in 1928. During his tenure with Levy and Klein, he was responsible for the design of the Marbro (1927), the Diversey (1925), and the Regal (1928), all similar in scale to the Granada. He remained with Levy and Klein until the mid-1930's, when he left to join A. Epstein and Company. Later he organized his own firm and enjoyed an excellent practice. In 1976 Eichenbaum received the Marquee magazine award from the Theater Historical Society, honoring him for his theater designs. He died in 1982.