The history of theaters in Kankakee began, literally, on a good note. On November 14 and 15, 1884, Mrs. Abbie Carrington and a touring company of opera singers performed excerpts from Faust and other operas.
The performance took place in Kankakee’s first building designed specifically as a theater – the Opera Arcade. The 500-seat theater occupied the western half of the Arcade building located at Schuyler Avenue and Merchant Street; the eastern half of the three-story structure housed a bank, telegraph office, Kankakee post office, meeting rooms and offices.
For around 30 years, the Opera stage will be a venue for traveling shows ranging from serious drama to burlesque comedy, as well as musical performances, magic shows, vaudeville acts, public meetings and even performances. high school theater.
A highlight at the Opera was the first screening of a film in Kankakee. At 8:15 pm on September 26, 1900, scenes from the just ended Spanish-American War came to life on the Opera screen, accompanied by âgraphophone musicâ. For an entire week, the presenter (Kline’s Cinematograph) would screen a different film program each evening.
An article published on September 18 in the Kankakee Daily Times stated: âThe images and music so mixed together make exactly the kind of entertainment to appeal to the smartest classes, exactly what the people of Kankakee kindly take and enjoy, and the success of this series is clearly assured. “
An event in 1908 established a link between the Arcade Opera House and a number of films screened in Kankakee theaters from the 1940s to the 1960s. On August 30, 1908, future movie star Fred MacMurray was born while his parents vaudeville artists were in Kankakee, appearing at the Opera House. MacMurray also starred in the 1960s television series, “My Three Sons”.
The year before MacMurray’s birth, Kankakee’s Second Theater opened. The Bijou Theater offered âcontinuous Vaudeville and moving imagesâ, with ânew attractions every weekâ. The theater was located on the east side of Schuyler Avenue, midway between Merchant Street and Station Street. There would be a theater there for over half a century – first the Bijou (1907-13), then the Gaiety (1913-19) and finally the Luna (1919-60)
The first local example of what has become a popular type of cinema, the Nickelodeon, opened in 1908 on East Avenue. First called the “Nickel-Only Theater” and later the Royal, it had a five-cent entry (the competing Jewel charged 10 cents).
In 1911, downtown Kankakee offered entertainment enthusiasts a total of six movie and / or vaudeville choices. In addition to the Opera House, the Bijou and the Royal, there were three theaters clustered together on the north side of Court Street between Schuyler and Dearborn avenues. The LaPetite Photoplay was at 203 E. Court, the Court at 209 and the Princess at 217.
The films shown in these cinemas in 1911 were, of course, “silent”. The talking pictures were still about 20 years in the future. Silent films used onscreen subtitles and live musical accompaniment (usually piano or organ). The programs often included a âsing-alongâ after the show with lyrics projected on the screen.
In 1927, the first âtalkieâ was released in theaters. Entitled “The Jazz Singer” and starring popular music figure Al Jolson, the film was actually a hybrid: Jolson’s songs were recorded, but most of the film relied on subtitles and live music. direct. It will be several years before movies with full soundtracks (called “all talking”) become mainstream.
The “talking photo” arrived at the Majestic Theater in Kankakee on December 12, 1928. For two weeks before the debut, the Majestic, located at 160 N. Schuyler Ave., ran a series of newspaper ads promoting the “Images you can HEAR and SEE.”
This first sound film, “The Lion and the Mouse”, starring Lionel Barrymore, was a hybrid of both recorded sound and live music. The first âAll Talkieâ shown at the Majestic was screened on January 7, 1930. Jean Arthur and Paul Lukas starred in âHalf Way to Heaven,â with a storyline heralded as âAn Eerie Suspense Compets the Romantic Dream of love!
In 1930, the Majestic was the largest and most elegant theater in Kankakee, accommodating 1,200 moviegoers on the ground floor, a mezzanine and two balconies. It was equipped for movies and shows, with a stage 32 feet wide and 40 feet deep. Although the theater bore the name Majestic for 15 years, its history dates back to May 15, 1912, when Mrs. Julia Remington opened the doors of her Remington Theater on North Schuyler Avenue.
Although advertised as fire retardant, the Remington Theater was destroyed by one of the city’s worst fires in the early hours of October 3, 1912. In addition to the Remington, the fire razed a livery barn, furniture store and several houses; nearby LaPetite and Court theaters were also damaged.
Ms Remington quickly rebuilt her theater, but financial problems forced the company into bankruptcy in less than two years. In 1915, a group of local businessmen bought the vacant theater and reopened it under the name Majestic. It will remain the Majestic until it closed in 1957.
Coming on Saturday 11 December: a “Movie Palace” opens in Kankakee