New Rex Theatre

3679 W. Grand Avenue,
Chicago, IL 60651

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Additional Info

Architects: Roy B. Blass

Firms: Grossman & Proskauer

Functions: Church

Previous Names: Lawndale Theatre, Grandale Theatre, Gene Theatre

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NEW REX (LAWNDALE, GRANDALE, GENE) Theatre; Chicago, Illinois.

The Lawndale Theatre was opened in 1914. In 1930 it was renamed Grandale Theatre which operated until 1936. In 1939 it reopened as the Gene Theatre.

Following a remodel in a Streamline Moderne style it reopened as the New Rex Theatre in September 1940. It was closed in 1951.

Today it houses a Pentecostal church.

Contributed by Lost Memory

Recent comments (view all 17 comments)

GFeret on December 19, 2008 at 12:15 pm

I so wish this theatre hadn’t closed when it apparently did, as it’s just a stone’s throw from where my family once lived, Dad referring to it I remember as the (former) REX.

When I see the place now – the church youth center appears closed – my distinct impression is only the rear half (against Division St) is part of original theatre left. The front half on Grand doesn’t blend at all, and later reconstruction I suspect stems from use as a funeral home in the ‘50s-'60s. I’d be interested what others may say.

Broan on December 19, 2008 at 12:31 pm – you can see the auditorium part is still intact. Even the projection booth. The lobby was probably just extensively remodeled. If you look at the street view the lobby side walls look about the same age. Remember the theatre was reconstructed in 1940, so it probably did not need too much updating.

GFeret on December 19, 2008 at 12:39 pm

Didn’t think someone’d pounce on this very minor entry so fast!

I agree about the auditorium. From the Grand Ave front, the facade has yellow-brick funeral home all over it.

LouRugani on November 1, 2015 at 10:20 pm

This was a 50x150' 1-story theatre building built for owner C. J. Moe by Grossman & Proskauer of 117 N. Dearborn Street.

GFeret on November 2, 2015 at 3:12 pm

the new NEW REX images were certainly an unexpectedly pleasant surprise for me to see. I have this exact area of Chicago ‘under my fingernails’ from my ‘50s – '70s youth, having gone to D.R. Cameron grade school right there a couple years. I could tell you every little thing about every little place nearby. Yet I was too late to attend this theatre, it had closed, and my late father had but passing recollection of its open operation. All that said, I have to say this building location is as odd as they come for a movie theatre IMO, which may have something to do with its rather short-termed longevity (astonishing that over its lifetime it was even totally rebuilt). Who would go to Grand & Lawndale to see a movie?

dspiffy on June 23, 2022 at 7:38 pm

This is my family’s church. It’s called Youth Center COGIC (Church of God In Christ). Youth Center is the name of the church, it’s not a literal youth center. Church of God in Christ is the largest Pentecostal denomination in the US.

According to my family, when they bought the building ~1972, it was still a movie theatre. However it was clearly renovated in the 1950s and the renovations do not make sense for a movie theatre, but would make sense for a funeral home. There’s also some evidence that it was originally a vaudeville theatre– we found some stage lights that predate the New Rex in 1940.

The auditorium serves as a sanctuary, the area behind the screen serves as a baptismal pool, and and the projection room is now an office. It still has the bathroom that would have been used by the projector operator.

The renovation in the 1950s involved removing the original lighting, installing fluorescent lighting, and extending the foyer/lobby and side rooms. I suspect the auditorium ceiling was lowered slightly as it is now all flush with the large “kmart” vents. That was probably the biggest change the building has seen since it was opened.

The church has done very very little to the building in the 50 years they have owned it. They added drop ceilings and paneling in the side rooms off the lobby (one serves as a kitchen, one serves as a fellowship hall) and in the projection room. They added ceiling fans in the sanctuary and decommissioned the 1950s fluorescent lights. They added the baptismal pool, but I’m not exactly sure what was there before that. Most of the original HVAC is still there but decommissioned. The original wiring is still there, a scary amount of it is still in use. We suspect a lot of the original light fixtures are still there, but plastered over from the 1950 renovation. We cannot find what would have controlled the lights during the theatre era, but there are a lot of decommissioned fuse panels.

There are two basements, one of them pretty extensive, but there was a water main break a few years ago and they are not pleasant. The church has been mostly unused during the pandemic for obvious reasons.

Myself and a few friends are doing as many repairs as we can and would love some help if anyone wants to explore and restore an old theatre.

If anyone wants to see it in use, they have Bible study Wednesday nights and service Sunday afternoons.

dspiffy on June 24, 2022 at 2:47 am

Doing some more research, it appears it was an entirely different church from 1956-1966 the “Grand Ave Church of Christ”.

I do not think it was ever a funeral home.

dspiffy on June 24, 2022 at 2:55 am

Confirmed the Lawndale showed silent films. Which begs the question, what were the stage lights for?

dspiffy on June 30, 2022 at 2:28 pm

A couple more notes from talking to family members:

  • The art deco ceiling design was apparently still there when my family bought the building, but it began to fall down so they removed it the rest of the way

  • The original theatre seats were removed in the 1990s

  • Some family members remember a projector and screen being present in the 1970s and 1980s and they would show movies as neighborhood fundraisers for the church

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on March 16, 2023 at 1:24 am

The September 7, 1912 issue of Moving Picture World had a brief item about F. H. and E. A. Franke, who had just bought the Bell Theatre on Armitage Avenue. The Franke’s then owned five neighborhood houses, and had just signed a contract to build another, of 300 seats, to be located at Grand Avenue and Monticello Avenue. The Rex is the only house we have listed near that location. I wonder if it could have been the Franke’s project?

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