RKO Grand Theatre

119 N. Clark Street,
Chicago, IL 60602

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Showing 22 comments

DavidZornig on January 22, 2023 at 4:06 pm

The Explore Chicago Collections link is now dead. But I was able to add one 1946 photo to the gallery.

DavidZornig on December 4, 2018 at 12:37 pm

Broan, the photo of the 4 Cohans conversion is the Ridge Theatre up North. The ECC link must have switched it out.

Broan on January 17, 2016 at 3:45 pm

Here is a photo during the 4 Cohans conversion. Here is is as the Grand Opera House. Here and Here as the RKO Grand.

KenC on February 14, 2013 at 8:55 pm

Thanks to all who shared photos of the RKO Grand. In one of the pics, the marquee states OPEN ALL NIGHT AND ALL DAY. Just like the Clark theatre- about 1 block away, and, around the corner on Randolph- the Woods theatre (MIDNIGHT SHOWS EVERY NIGHT TO 6 A.M.) Back when downtown Chicago was busy almost 24/7.

justinterested on September 19, 2011 at 4:30 pm

When i was young during the WWII, i went to The Grand to see Guadalcanal Diary, i saw that film 13 times at 13 different theatres, the first being the Grand. I guess you could say i loved the movie.

KenC on July 27, 2011 at 12:52 pm

Thanks for sharing that great pic, Bryan. Never got the chance to attend the Grand as a kid ; never saw the outside. (The photo I saw at the Corner Bakery Cafe doesn’t count…yours is much better). And now I know where “RED PLANET MARS” opened first run! lol…Thanks again.

kencmcintyre on March 24, 2010 at 7:22 pm

There was a small photo of the marquee in Boxoffice, March 1947:

kencmcintyre on October 25, 2008 at 5:40 pm

Cliches come to life, from the LA Times on November 24, 1909:


CHICAGO, Nov. 23 – Fire in a hotel adjacent to the Grand Operahouse tonight caused the audience to leave the theater. A panic in the theater was averted by theater employees stopping a policeman, who ran into the building shouting “Fire, fire, there’s a fire in the building”.

Englewood on December 15, 2007 at 12:54 pm

On Wednesday, Christmas Day, 1946, “It’s a Wonderful Life” had it’s Chicago premiere at the RKO Grand Theatre.

Broan on December 2, 2006 at 3:38 pm

Good catch, Warren. It was indeed the Grand Theatre in its first year as a movie house, 1942-1943.

KenC on November 30, 2006 at 6:57 pm

To markdereng: If you live in the Chicago area, or ever vacation here, check out the Corner Bakery Cafe on Randolph just west of Dearborn street. On the east wall of the restaurant, you will find a rather small black and white photo of the RKO Grand. Looks like it was closed at the time; there is nothing on the marquee. There are many other photos of downtown movie theatres in the place, from the 1920s through the 1960s. The Grand played many westerns.On Saturday, Feb. 16, 1957, Robert Wagner was in the lobby to promote his film “THE TRUE STORY OF JESSE JAMES”. The co-feature was “THE DESPERADOS ARE IN TOWN”. This information comes from the Chicago Sun Times movie directory, Friday Feb. 15, 1957.

Broan on November 30, 2006 at 11:21 am

The building was built in 1872, by the Hamlin family, originally snake-oil salesmen. The site had been a theater since 1860, called Beyan’s Hall, renamed Hooley’s Opera House in 1870 and then the Coliseum before falling in the Grat Chicago Fire. In 1873 the theater was added, originally a 30-table billiard hall. 1874 the billiard hall was enlarged and altered into an amusement hall with fountains, waterfalls, and refreshments; in 1878 it was converted into a theater proper, called Hamlin’s; following further renovations in 1880 by Adler and Sullivan, completely redecorating and partially rebuilding, it became the Grand Opera House; it was leased by the famed George M. Cohan in 1912; in 1926 following extensive modernizations by architect A.N. Rebori it was to become “The Four Cohans”, but a covenant in the lease said that whatever name it would tak had to include “Grand Opera House” and so for six months it was “The Four Cohans Grand Opera House” before being named back as Cohan’s Grand Opera House, later passing to the Shuberts; it became the RKO Grand in 1942, closed in March 1958 and was demolished the next month.

Broan on November 30, 2006 at 9:52 am

There is a picture on Corbis. Search http://pro.corbis.com/default.aspx for U204954INP

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on November 26, 2006 at 7:06 am

The RKO Grand, as the Grand Opera House, is listed in the 1897-98 edition of Julius Cahn’s Official Theatrical Guide. The managers are F.R.Hamlin and H.L. Hamlin. The seating capacity is given as 1,700 (but that figure may have included standees). The proscenium opening was 35 feet wide x 33 feet high. The stage was 42 feet deep and the theatre was located on the first floor.

markdereng on October 31, 2006 at 12:02 pm

I recall reading somewhere that the original 1880 structure was either an Adler & Sullivan OR Dankmar Adler solo. Can anyone substantiate this?
In July 1940 the house hosted pre-Broadway tryout of “Hold On To Your Hats” which was Al Jolson’s final appearance in a stage musical. It co-starred his estranged wife, Ruby Keeler. Reportedly, they were at each others throats the entire time Keeler remained with the show.
Does anyone know if one DECENT photo or sketch of this theatre exists?

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on October 22, 2006 at 7:11 am

There are some comments about the RKO Grand on pages 198-99, and 214 of “The National Trust Guide to Great Opera Houses in America” by Karyl Lynn Zietz published in 1996 by John Wiley & Sons. The one point I disagree with is that the author states that the Grand was demolished on March 31, 1958 which I believe was probably the closing date. The book contains a great deal of interesting information, and the author also wrote a guide to opera houses in western Europe. The Grand is also mentioned in the bio “Fred Stone” by Armond Fields (McFarland, 2002). The vaudeville and musical comedy star Fred Stone originated the role of the Scarecrow in the original stage version of “The Wizard of Oz” and the book details how he perfected the role while playing at the Grand in the summer of 1902. The book states that curious kids would gather outside his dressing room window at the Grand to watch him get into his Scarecrow makeup and costume.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on September 12, 2006 at 8:10 am

The family name of the brothers who managed the Grand in the early 20th Century is spelled “Hamlin” not “Hamilin”. Fred Hamlin was quite well known during that period as a show producer.

Broan on March 29, 2006 at 6:32 pm

THe RKO Grand was remodeled in the 1940s by Roy B. Blass

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on December 16, 2005 at 8:10 am

The RKO Grand on N. Clark Street was a historic theatre. It opened in 1880 on the site of an earlier theatre and was called the Grand Opera House. It had about 1500 seats. After 1900 it was under the direction of Fred and H.L. Hamilin, theatrical managers and producers. It was the scene of the first production of two huge hit musicals aimed at children. In June 1902, the original production of “The Wizard of OZ” had its premier there. One year later, in June 1903, came the premiere of Victor Herbert’s “Babes in Toyland”. Both of these shows were big hits and ran thru the summer. (Did this theatre have an early form of air-conditioning?? – most theatres then closed for the summer.) I believe it later was under the management of the actor/producer George M. Cohan. It became a RKO movie house later (by 1941?). It closed around 1958. I understand that it was not demolished until long after it closed.

Broan on March 15, 2005 at 10:39 pm

Address: 119 N Clark St

John P Keating Jr
John P Keating Jr on January 18, 2002 at 7:21 pm

Demolished many years ago. Now the site of the Daley Civic Center.