HISTORY OF THE CATLOW THEATER
the mid-1920's, the Catlow Theater was merely a dream for Wright
Catlow. Catlow was a Barrington businessman. His father owned
the building that served as the village community center.
The Auditorium, as it was
called, was used for dances, meetings and community events. It
was also used as the showplace for the silent films of that era.
The community center eventually
became inadequate for the areas growing film audience.
Catlow started building the
new theater on West Main Street in 1926. The theater was primarily
designed in the Tudor Revival style ornamented to portray a medieval
architectural firm of Betts & Holcomb of Chicago designed
the theater and the builder was T.S. Willis of Janesville, Wisconsin.
The theaters grand opening was
held on Wright's birthday, May 28th, in 1927.
main historical highlight of the Catlow Theater is the interior
design by renowned sculptor & designer, Alfonso Iannelli.
Iannelli's career started
to gain momentum in Los Angeles where he designed posters for the
Orpheum Vaudeville Theatre from 1910 to 1915. He also designed
their stained glass windows.
that time, he became friends with architect Barry Byrne and brothers,
Lloyd Wright, the sons of Frank Lloyd Wright.
the years, Iannelli collaborated with John, Wright and, more
often, Barry Byrne on many home and church designs. They remained
Byrne described his collaboration
with Iannelli as being "like dancing,
with the lead shifting back and forth depending on the specific
Lloyd Wright invited Iannelli to come to Chicago from California
and work with him on the Midway Gardens complex in 1914. During
that collaboration, he designed several of the interior fountains,
sculptures and murals as well as most of the famous Sprite sculptures.
later worked on many of the exposition pavillions at the Century
of Progress for the 1933 Chicago World's Fair. He designed
the five sculptured reliefs for the Radio Entrance to the Social
Sciences Building, the gigantic fair exhibit "Coaster
legendary Chicago wagon company, Radio Flyer, and the Havoline
thermometer exhibit, which was on record as the world's largest
thermometer for many years.
His design work was not limited
to architectural collaboration. Iannelli, together with his wife
Margaret, an artist in her own right, set up Iannelli Studios in Park
Along with his poster work,
he designed ads, magazine covers, packaging and he was deeply involved
in industrial design including fountain pens, lamps and appliances,
including the extremely popular Coffeemaster and matching toaster
for Sunbeam Electric Co. in 1939.
notable works by Iannelli include the twelve bronze constellation
placques at the Adler Planetarium; the Rock Of Gibraltar relief
for the Prudential Building; the Kenna House apartments and Imaculatta
High school, all located in Chicago.
Many of Iannelli's sculptures
and designs have been on display at the Art Institute of Chicago
where he served as an instructor and was Head of the Design Department
for a time. His work was not limited to the Chicago area alone.
Iannelli's work can be found
in many states throughout the U.S. and his collaborations with
Byrne extended into Europe.
Catlow design includes the stenciling on the Catlow's ceiling,
walls and beams along with the sculpted gargoyle-like heads that
border each ceiling truss and the "Fountain Idyll" sculpture
in the inner lobby.
Other highlights include three
coat-of-arms wall murals, iron wall sconces, the detailed woodwork
on both of the organ lofts and the original hand painted stage
Another fine example of his
craftsmanship can be seen at the Pickwick Theater in Park Ridge,
Illinois (Iannelli's hometown from 1915 until his death in 1965.)
blueprints for the Catlow Theater had been the original Pickwick
Theater plans. The Pickwick owner decided on a different style
and Wright Catlow acquired those plans.
Betts & Holcomb also designed a few other theaters in Illinois including
the Des Plaines Theater in Des Plaines and the Deerpath Theater in
The Deerpath and the Catlow were somewhat
similar in their architectural floorplans - the significant difference
being the Catlow's lack of a balcony.
The Deerpath's mediteranean-style
interior design motif was quite different from the Catlow's design.
Iannelli was not involved with the Deerpath's interior design in
The Deerpath closed its doors as a movie theater operation in
the early 1980's. Its interior was initially tranformed into an
office mall but has since been converted into a small shopping
Catlow Building - 1930
In May of 1927, the Catlow Theater opened for business with "Slide, Kelly, Slide" as
its first feature film. In those early days, Wright Catlow was
also running vaudeville acts on Sunday nights.
He had worked out
an arrangement with WLS, a Chicago country & western
radio station that featured a program called
"The Barn Dance."
the Catlow was surrounded by rural areas, the theater was a natural
showcase for the performers who played on "The Barn Dance" when they toured through
the Midwest. Among
those acts was Gene Autry, who had yet to achieve "super-stardom."
Catlow proved to be quite
a promoter and his natural talent for filling seats made the Catlow
Theater one of the main attractions for Chicago's expanding Northwest
of the last live acts to appear on the Catlow's stage in 1933
was world famous fan dancer Sally Rand, fresh from her appearance
at the Chicago World's Fair.
The movie business was advancing
rapidly and by the early 1930's, Catlow had completely abandoned
vaudeville and became a full-fledged movie house.
Catlow stayed in pace with
the developing film industry over the years by adding the largest
Cinemascope screen in the area in addition to stereo sound as they
The downside to installing
such a large screen was that it overlapped the stage area rendering
it unusable from then on. The upside was that Cinemascope and the
other large screen formats filled seats in theaters across the
In January of 1964, Wright
decided to retire from the movie business and turned control of
the theater over to Ed Skehan. Skehan had previously worked as
an usher in Chicago, a booking agent for Columbia Pictures and
as a film booker for Wright Catlow.
May of 1964, Skehan bought the theater from Catlow and he continued
to operate it quite successfully. Skehan's biggest competition
at the time was television. Nevertheless, the Catlow survived by
showing major film releases at reasonable prices.
In May of 1988, Skehan sold the
theater to a group of investors led by Tim O'Connor and Roberta
Rapata. O'Connor and
Rapata also own Boloney's Sandwich Shop which is located
in the Catlow building. The adjoining
lobby is used as seating for Boloney's during the day and is transformed
back into the concession lobby each evening before showtime.
The Catlow Theater
new owners' first task was to restore the theater to as much
of its original condition as the budget would allow. Then, their
business plan called for a new "mid-run" niche to play
films between their first and second-run theatrical release.
This is the formula that the Catlow has followed since 1988.
Next up, the equipment needed
to be modernized. The platter system was replaced with a new setup
and a Dolby Stereo Cinema Processor with SR Surround and Dolby
digital capabilities was added to the sound system. New JBL stage
speakers were installed for the left, center and right channels.
November of 1996, the theater interior and both lobbies were repainted,
major structural repairs were completed and new JBL surround speakers
However, the most important change was offering
Catlow customers the best of both worlds by combining inexpensive
movie entertaiment with a top quality meal from Boloney's... all
under the same roof. That established the Catlow as one of the nation's first dine-in type
movie theaters as early as 1988.
May 28th, 2007, the Catlow entered its 80th year in business.
The Catlow has been a popular "date theater" and meeting
place for many years. Customers continually tell tales of how their
first date was at the theater years ago, and now they are married
with families. Some are even grandparents by now.
Here are a few more Catlow highlights:
1989, the Catlow Theater Building was placed on the National
Register Of Historic Places through the efforts of local architect
Linda Grubb and her staff.
- The Catlow's first website went online in 1995 making it the
first theater in Illinois to be listed on the internet and
one of only a small handful of movie theaters nationwide at the
- The Catlow was
named one of the ten best theaters in the United States by American
- Thirty historic American
movie theaters, including the Catlow, are highlighted in the
TREASURES: A NEW LOOK AT CLASSIC MOVIE THEATERS by Ross Melnick
and Andreas Fuchs.
- The Catlow was featured, along with other significant suburban
landmarks, in the 2004, WTTW television
presentation of "Northwest
of Chicago: From Farm Fields To Boom Towns" hosted by
- Dan Moran of The
News Sun named the Catlow as a four star theater
and put it at the top of his "best looking" category
describing it as; "A
single-screen movie house the way it oughta be."
We at the Catlow hope
you will share that sentiment every time you pass through our