The Pickwick Theatre
5 S. Prospect Ave
Park Ridge, IL 60068
Opening in 1928 to serve as both a vaudeville stage and a movie house, the Pickwick Theatre was designed by Roscoe Harold Zook and William F. McCaughey. It was the only theatre that the duo designed and it represents one of the best examples of art deco architecture in the country. The building rises to a 100-foot tower, capped by an ornamental iron lantern. The bright outdoor marquee of the theatre is world famous, largely because it was used for the opening titles of the Siskel & Ebert film review show, "At the Movies.” Indoors, the firescreen has been called "the finest example of Cubistic art anywhere.” All of this put together makes the Pickwick Theatre one of the most beautiful and imposing structures in downtown Park Ridge. The theatre was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.
The Pickwick technically has 4 screens, but only Theatre 1 is housed in the main building. Alfonso Ianneli, a local artist and sculptor who did many interiors for Frank Lloyd Wright, designed the massive 1,400-seat Theatre 1. Theatre 1 continues the art deco motif from the outdoors, but the real eye-catcher is the huge mural painted on the ceiling. The painting supposedly contains 5 of the famous Greek “comedy/tragedy” masks hidden among a set of intertwining vines and leaves. It is a favorite pastime of moviegoers to try and spot the masks while waiting for the show to start.
Everything about the interior of Theatre 1 simply screams “classy,” from the recently restored two-story lobby featuring red carpeting, a golden concession stand and smoky light fixtures. To the winding staircases that lead you down to the bathrooms, each with a classical sculpture outside for the respective sex of each washroom. It is also home to the 3-manual/11 rank Mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ, one of the few remaining original installations by the Wurlitzer firm. The organ was used for only a short time after the Pickwick opened. After the talkies evolved, the organ was used only for concerts and community sing-alongs. After many years of neglect, the pipe organ was restored in the 1960s and several concerts were presented in the years that followed. In 1973, veteran theatre organist John Muri accompanied the silent film classic Wings for a full week.
In short, Theatre 1 kicks ass.
Theatres 2-4 on the other hand, totally suck. Built during the early 1990s, these theatres are actually located in a separate brick structure behind the main Pickwick building and were added so more movies could be shown in order to keep the theatre economically viable. Theatres 2 and 3 are little more than glorified closets located on the lower level. Theatre 4, located upstairs, is roughly twice the size of the other two and is equipped for digital sound and 70mm films, but seating and screen size is still inadequate. However this was the first place I saw The Usual Suspects, so it holds a little place in my heart.
The Pickwick is a cheap theatre, usually featuring movies 2-3 months after their initial release, however the price is only $4.00 and it’s well worth it if you get into Theatre 1.
Recently the Pickwick has been increasingly used for live performances, especially community theatre and performances by the Park Ridge Symphony Orchestra. A few months ago the theatre was the main venue for the Flashback Weekend Horror and Sci-Fi Convention, cumulating with a double feature of Evil Dead and Bubba Ho-Tep along with a Q&A session with Bruce Campbell and the rest of the Evil Dead cast.
There is plenty of free parking around the theatre, especially at the library across the street. Do not park at the Summit mall behind the theatre! You will get towed!! This has happened to me!
Watch out when walking down the back stairwell from #4, as certain people have been known to engage in deviant sexual practices there during off-hours.
After the show, go get something to eat at the Pickwick restaurant just next door to Theatre 1. It’s in the same cool main building as the theatre and has good diner food.