Iola Theatre

1238 N. Milwaukee Avenue,
Chicago, IL 60622

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Sanborn Map 1914

The Iola Theatre was located in the Wicker Park neighborhood on N. Milwaukee Avenue, near N. Ashland Avenue. It opened in 1907 and closed in 1912. Today, a condominium stands on the site of this theater.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft, Ken Roe

Recent comments (view all 5 comments)

Broan on December 27, 2007 at 3:14 pm

The Iola was an exceptionally strange theater. Looking at the Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, the narrow lobby went through the entire depth of the building fronting Milwaukee, and then extended across the alley to the theater, which sat on the island at the center of the block, with a natatorium next to it. It had small balconies along each side of the auditorium, rather than at the rear, and the stage was trapezoidal due to the shape of the block. This now sleepy block must have been quite different in 1914; it contained 4 theaters, the Schoenhofen (Brewery) Hall, the natatorium, billiard halls, bowling alleys, and about 5 other small halls. It also contained 11 tailor shops for some reason, as well as the Moeller Bros department store. The remains of the lobby may have stood until recently; a condominium was built on the site in 2007

Broan on November 22, 2021 at 11:22 am

Broan on November 22, 2021 at 12:28 pm

The building was built as Chicago Natatorium Hall in 1892. The seating capacity, though given as 299 for fire purposes, was actually 524. It was one of 9 second floor “loft” theaters in Chicago targeted for closure in 1912 due to the danger of crowd panic deaths. The Iola was described, “good fire escapes with main floor fifteen feet above the ground; balcony, seating 100, bad to leave because of steep, narrow exit stairs.” The other eight were:

Teddy, 461 E 31st St, 767 seats, “gallery contains box stalls almost impossible to escape from in rush; wood construction everywhere and seats where aisleways should be; numerous fire escapes on three sides”;

Humboldt, 849 Ohio St, 800 seats, “steep, ladderlike steps at entrance, winding rear exit with three turns and no lights, no rear fire escapes”;

Schindler, 1005 W Huron, 980 seats, “windows fitted with heavy screening, property room filled with inflammable trash, lack of red lights to indicate rear exitway, balcony bad”;

Arcade, 112th & Paulina, 711 seats, “built thirty years ago and only modernized to the extent of sheet iron walls for dressing rooms; balcony especially bad; labyrinthine rear exitways”;

Sittner’s, 335 North Ave, 800 seats, “next to Ideal, worst visited; big balcony with poor exitways; rear exitways of ladderlike steepness; added danger seen in first floor tenants including dry goods, tailor, and dyers and cleaners establishments”;

Ideal, 538 North Ave, 530 seats, “third floor fire trap, heated with stoves; exits bad and long way to ground; clothing store on first floor added danger”;

La Salle, 110 W Madison, 770 seats, “insufficient fire escapes for second floor; double deck style balcony reaching nearly to stage line; rear exit from dressing rooms on first floor locked”

The Thalia was excepted as being relatively safe. Ultimately some were closed, some rebuilt.

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