Oakland Square Theatre

3947 S. Drexel Boulevard,
Chicago, IL 60653

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Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on November 12, 2021 at 4:09 am

This description of the Oakland Square Theatre was featured in an article about the Ascher Bros. chain that appeared in the March 10, 1917 issue of Moving Picture World:

“The Oakland Square theater, on Oakwood and Drexel boulevards, was erected under the personal supervision of the architect, Henry L. Newhouse, and is recognized as one of the finest in the country. Until the erection of the Metropolitan, a description of which will follow, this house was unequalled for beauty and modernity by any moving picture theater in Chicago. On the opening night, March 4, 1916, nearly every section of the city was represented in a crowd of nearly 5,000 people who sought to gain admission, and many hundreds were turned away.

“This beautiful house is located in the heart of an exclusive residence district on the South Side. The interior decorations are carried out in a modified French Renaissance style. The exterior is of the Italian type, and in the copings are quaint grotesque figures. In the auditorium are 1,525 seats all so arranged as to afford a perfect view of the screen, no matter where one may sit. The Oakland Square has been doing a capacity business ever since its successful opening. This can be attributed somewhat to the capable management of Max E. Ascher, whose personal attention is given to the details of every exhibition. The Ascher policy of operating for the convenience of patrons rather than for employees is always in evidence here.”

RickB on January 21, 2018 at 12:43 pm

The theater must have gone back to screening movies as the Oakland Square after its days as the Affro-Arts (with a double f, circa 1968-69), as a February 28, 1971 story in the Tribune notes the arrest of two gang members for trying to shake down the theater manager. They allegedly wanted $75 a week not to stage demonstrations in front of the theater. The theater does not appear to have advertised in the Tribune at this time.

Broan on November 13, 2016 at 8:21 pm

Uploaded a photo of the auditorium. Looks like this was one of Ascher’s oddball “cornerwise” theaters, with the screen off in a corner.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on May 24, 2015 at 7:40 pm

After closing as the Oakland Square, the theater was known for a while as the Afro-Arts.

Photo of it as the Afro-Arts in this article:


The opening description for this theater also needs to be amended. This was far more than a hangout for gang members. As the “El Rukn Fort” it was on the evening news frequently in the 1980’s. Documentary here:


The El Rukn leader attempted to make a terrorism deal with Libya and ended up locked in Supermax somewhere.

As negative as it all is, this is a large chapter in Chicago’s history.

oakenwald on May 11, 2015 at 8:28 pm

I remember going to this elegant little theater when I was a child, back in the early ‘40s. We lived at 3702 Lake Park Avenue, and my parents would give my older brother (11 years old) money for our tickets, and he would run ahead to buy them before the prices changed. Oakland Square itself was a fascinating place to me then.

rivest266 on June 26, 2012 at 2:24 am

March 4, 1916 grand opening ad posted here.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on January 31, 2011 at 4:32 pm

Inside the auditorum while it was under gang control:

View link

RickB on October 22, 2009 at 2:43 pm

According to this blog post a spacious private residence has been built on the Oakland Square site.

Broan on January 30, 2006 at 3:00 am

There’s a photo in this sunday’s (1/29/06) Tribune Magazine of the theatre while the El Rukn gang controlled it. Pretty lovely building.

Broan on December 7, 2005 at 3:04 am

It apparently was rather innovative when the project was announced; it was noted to contain “no wall seats” (boxes, I presume), held extra-wide seats, and was apparently both the city’s largest all-movie theater at the time, and “the first theater over 1,000 seats without a stage”. Chicago Tribune, July 30, 1915.

phickey on January 15, 2004 at 4:14 am

Thes was the headquarters of the El Rukin Street gang in the 1980"s, they called it the fort. It was a fortress windows blocked up, gates on doors and escape tunnels.