Woods Theatre

54 W. Randolph Street,
Chicago, IL 60601

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Additional Info

Previously operated by: Balaban & Katz Corp., Cineplex Odeon, Essaness Theaters Corp., Jones, Linick & Schaefer, RKO

Architects: Charles Eli Fox, Benjamin Howard Marshall

Firms: Marshall & Fox

Styles: Italian Renaissance, Moorish, Oriental

Previous Names: A.H. Woods Theatre, RKO Woods Theatre

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Woods Theater

The Woods Theatre was opened March 10, 1918, and was constructed on the site of the Borden Block, an 1880 structure which was the first design by the firm of Adler & Sullivan. It was razed in 1916 to make way for the Woods Theatre and Office Building. The Woods Theatre originally featured a mix of legitimate theatre, vaudeville, and films and was opened officially as the A.H. Woods Theatre, but was always known simply as Woods Theatre (although some earlier listings of the theatre spelled it Woods' Theatre).

The theatre was named for Albert H. Woods (1870-1951), a theatrical manager and showman, who also built the Eltinge Theatre (later Empire Theatre) on W. 42nd Street, New York City.

The exterior of the Woods Theatre was designed in Venetian Renaissance style, while the interior was a mix of Middle Eastern and Oriental styles.

The Woods Theatre originally sat over 1,300 patrons, and though not as large or glamorous as many of its neighboring Loop theatres like the Oriental Theatre, United Artists Theatre or the Garrick Theatre, which sat just a few steps down W. Randolph Street, the Woods Theatre was an immediate success. It was designed by Marshall & Fox, the firm which also designed the legitimate Blackstone Theatre in Chicago (now known as the Merle Reskin Theatre), as well as the Rialto Theatre on S. State Street, a burlesque and vaudeville house which ended its days showing porn (razed in the 1970’s). One of the firm’s best-known projects was the Drake Hotel, still one of Chicago’s finest hotels.

From the late-1920’s into the early-1930’s, the theatre was known as the RKO Woods Theatre, as that circuit operated a few Loop houses at that time in addition to the Woods Theatre, including the Palace Theatre, Grand Theatre, and their flagship in Chicago the State-Lake Theatre. By the around 1960, the Woods Theatre was part of the Essaness chain, and remained so almost for the rest of its years in operation.

By the 1970’s, the Loop was no longer drawing the the crowds of theatre patrons and nightlife seekers it had been for decades, and like its neighbors, the Roosevelt Theatre and United Artists Theatre, the Woods Theatre began to decline, both in its appearance and in the films which it played on screen, showing mostly action and horror films.

When Cineplex Odeon bought the Woods Theatre in the mid-1980’s, it attempted to clean it up, and began showing first-run fare there for the first time in many years. Unfortunately, it was too late for the Woods Theatre. It closed in early-January of 1989, and the last films on the marquee were “I’m Gonna Get You Sucka” and “Hellraiser II”.

Although the idea of converting the Woods Theatre into a concert venue in the mould of the Chicago Theatre was toyed with after it closed, nothing came to fruition and the Woods Theatre was razed in summer of 1989, with plans to build a large office tower on the site (which never happened). It wasn’t until almost a decade later that the property finally became developed after many failed prospects, and today is part of the site of the new Goodman Theatre (which replaced its original home next to the Art Institute), along with the facades of the razed former Harris Theatre and Selwyn Theatre, further down S. Dearborn Street.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft, Ray Martinez

Recent comments (view all 124 comments)

DavidZornig on January 20, 2021 at 10:13 am

Crisper version of the 1962 photo posted in 2014. Photo credit Chicago History Museum/Getty Images.


DavidZornig on February 22, 2021 at 8:54 pm

1981 photo credit John McCarthy/Chicago History Museum.


DavidZornig on July 9, 2021 at 6:49 pm

12/29/86 photo credit Kevin Mueller.


vindanpar on November 26, 2021 at 1:41 pm

Why no interior shots of this theater? Did I miss them?

DavidZornig on November 26, 2021 at 3:23 pm

Other than the projection booth, there are only like 2 interior photos of stairwells in the gallery. None of the auditorium. Which is something even a former usher complained about in past comments a few years back.

LouRugani on December 12, 2021 at 10:20 am

(Chicago Tribune, March 19, 1918) - An explosion of dynamite shattered the east doors of the new Al H. Woods theater at Randolph and Dearborn streets last night and started a campaign by the police and the state’s attorney’s office to head off a reign of terror alleged to have been planned by union labor sympathizers. Threats to prevent the big playhouse from opening its doors to the public on Monday are said to have been made by labor representatives and soon after the blast had stirred great excitement at the busy downtown corner. Acting Chief Alcock and Assistant Fleming were on the scene looking for evidence upon which to base prosecution. State’s Attorney Hoyne, who is in Hot Springs, Ark., was in communication with his office by long distance telephone and gave directions for the inquiry.

Actual Damage Slight.

The explosion caused property damage of less than $75 despite the fact that it was of sufficient force to smash windows in a passing street car. Nobody was injured, although scores of persons were in the immediate vicinity. Following the explosion, which took place at 7:15 o’clock, George H. Thomas, the contractor who erected the building, and Lou M. Houseman, western representative of Al H. Woods, owner of the theater, admitted their suspicion that sheet metal workers might be implicated. Half a stick of dynamite blew up, either from a slow fuse or a match, just outside the Dearborn street entrance. The actual damage will not exceed $75.

What the Trouble Was About.

Mr. Thomas declared there had been labor trouble ever since construction started. Last Monday, he said, the electrical workers walked out in sympathy with the sheet metal trade, which quit the job three months ago because he refused to substitute iron doors for ones of steel already in position. Had the demands of the unions been acceded to, Mr. Housdeman said, the theater opening would have been delayed three months. Thomas Walsh, business agent of the sheet metal workers, was reached by telephone last night, but refused to talk. He was recalled to the telephone three times. Finally he said:

I know nothing about it.

LouRugani on December 12, 2021 at 10:25 am

(Chicago Tribune, March 10, 1918) Since theater building is a habit to which Chicago is little addicted, a brief, provincial enthusiasm may be condoned for A. H. Woods and his new house, the Woods, at Randolph and Dearborn. Mr. Woods is known as a showman of many successful enterprises, operating extensively in racy farce, modern melodrama, and character comedy of the Potash and Perimutter type. He is an intrepid investor in the stages, but his daring is mitigated usually by an intuition which preserves him. That is, he avoids the five per cent that is hopelessly good in the theater and the five per cent that is hopelessly bad, and he banks, reluctantly, no doubt, on the ninety per cent that is prudently mediocre. He is, one suspects, a man with few illusions, and none of the florid managerial vanities that inspire such stupid and ignorant posings as “The Judge of Zalamea.” The commonplace or successful show is the better for Mr. Woods having done it, because he does it as well as it can be done without interfering with the attendances. His name on an entertainment is assurance that, while it may not mean much as drama, it signifies a great deal as theater. So the ingenuous wanderer within the Union Loop, seeking amusement rather than edification, will usually find the new Woods a satisfactory haven. It is a good-looking theater. From Michael & Fox, who are literary as well as architectural, it is learned that upon the outside it is an artistic liaison between office building and playhouse. Inside it is as quiet as a midwestern library, with solid walnut walls, purple carpets and chairs, and a conservative lighting scheme of gray and lavender. The first floor auditorium is one of the most spacious in America, with something like 700 seats on it, and all of them permitting an unobstructed view of the stage. There is no gallery, but the balcony is commodious and comfortable. Two foyers are quiet and dignified in brown and purple, “adding,” say the architects, “to the feeling of elegance that is characteristic of the whole.” “FRIENDLY ENEMIES,” the first play for the Woods theater, comes from the titular Capital, with the plaudits of the President. … When and if Mr. Woods gets the electric lights on his theater in operation, the Dearborn street facade will announce “Sam Bernard and Louis Mann,” while emblazoned on the Randolph street front will be “Louis Mann and Sam Bernard.” In case it is learned that the sign on one thoroughfare is more conspicuous than that on the other, a scheme of equable alternation will be arranged by the arbitrators. Thus Mr. Woods is comfortable, Mr. Bernard and Mr. Mann are 50 per cent happy, and Mr. Mann and Mr. Bernard the remaining fifty. All are content except perhaps the bilious observer, who thinks he sees in the minor details of the alliance one of the several reasons that acting is to art what kopeck is to finance.

LouRugani on December 12, 2021 at 10:30 am

(Chicago Tribune, January 8, 1989, by Rudolph Unger) The lights on movie theater marquees in Chicagos Loop have been flickering out one by one over the years, and the Loops last marquee was to go dark Sunday as the Woods Theater closed its doors. The demise of the theater where “Gone with the Wind“ premiered on a reserved-seat basis in 1940, beginning an engagement that lasted an entire year, will make Monday the first day in more than three-quarters of a century that the citys Loop will be without a movie theater. The Woods, on the northwest corner of Randolph and Dearborn Streets, will close to make way for a 30-story office building, becoming the latest victim of the Loops decline as an entertainment center and its growth as a commercial center. The 1,100-seat Woods is the last movie house to join the scrap heap of the once glittering film palaces that radiated like brillant necklaces near the intersection of State and Randolph Streets. “There was always a festival air surrounding the intersection of State and Randolph, the center of the Loops night life,” said Edward Barry, a veteran newspaper cultural critic. “I still recall the first of the great silent Harold Lloyd comedy films,Safety First,at the Chicago in 1923, in which he hung from the Wrigley Building clock.” The late Danny Kaye, the funny man whose uproarious first movie, “Up in Arms,” graced the Woods marquee for a year in 1944, would weep if he could see the Loop today, devoid of even a single silver screen. Bob Hope, that other funny man who once stood penniless outside Loop theaters in the 1920s before his star ascended, would certainly look in amazement at the shuttered show houses and sites of razed cinema palaces whose marquees once were emblazoned with the names of the brightest stars in Hollywoods firmament: actors such as Bing Crosby, Al Jolson, Charlie Chaplin, Jack Benny, Fred Astaire, John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart and Spencer Tracy. Actresses such as Greta Garbo, Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, Joan Fontaine, Judy Garland, Ingrid Bergman and Barbara Stanwyck. The Chicago Theatre, long the flagship of the sumptuous Loop show places, was saved from destruction through a massive civic effort to refurbish it as a center of live entertainment. But shadows overhang its future since its operator, Chicago Theatre Productions, went into bankruptcy last summer, and the theater has been reopened only for an occasional event since. The Woods Theater, the Loop’s last movie house, on the northwest corner of Randolph and Dearborn Streets, was to close Sunday to make way for a 30-story building. Gone forever are such popular show houses as the State-Lake Theater, across the street from the Chicago. The Loop, just south of the Chicago, which for a time featured newsreels, is long gone. The Roosevelt, a block south on State, and the opulent Oriental, on Randolph just west of State, gave way to stores. The United Artists, down the street from the Oriental and kitty corner from the Woods, closed last year. The Garrick, onetime neighbor of the Woods, was replaced with a parking garage. The Apollo, just west of the Garrick, made way for the Greyhound bus terminal, which itself is now to be razed so that twin office towers can be built on Randolph Street. The McVickers Theater, on Madison Street just west of State, was taken over by film producer Mike Todd to feature his Todd-A-O process films, beginning with the screen version of the musical “Oklahoma.“ North of the Woods on Dearborn Street, the two Dearborn Cinemas had a short-lived existence after opening in the old Michael Todd and Cinestage Theaters. The properties, owned by Todds estate, are to be sold to the developer of the Greyhound property and restored to their original names, Harris and Selywn, and their original use as playhouses. Also long gone from the scene is the Palace Theater, in the Bismarck Hotel complex, once known as the home of the wide-screen Cinerama films. At one time, the Palace, like the Chicago, the State-Lake and the Oriental, featured not only first-run films from Hollywood but they also hosted live stage entertainment. “From childhood on, going to movies was a big thrill,” recalled Herman Kogan, Chicago historian and newspaperman. “On Saturdays, that meant going to one of the big Loop show palaces, where you could see stage shows as well as first-run films.” There were other, smaller theaters scattered about the Loop where B films or reruns of first-run movies could be seen, usually for a cut-rate price. These included the Monroe, the Clark and the LaSalle, which stood on the site of the present-day St. Peter Catholic Church at 110 W. Madison St. The Today theater, located on Madison Street just west of Dearborn and which specialized in newsreels, also disappeared. The movies came to Chicagos Loop-traditionally defined as the city blocks lying within the “loop“ of the downtown elevated tracks-early in this century.

DavidZornig on January 24, 2022 at 8:24 pm

Flickr link with photo taken 5/24/74-6/27/74. Highlights the slight angle of WOODS at the top, to face oncoming traffic on Randolph. Image will enlarge within link.


Tim O'Neill
Tim O'Neill on December 26, 2022 at 5:28 pm

The Woods Theatre was demolished in the Summer of 1989.

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