Downtown’s Skokie Theatre slated to go dark at end of year
The Skokie Theatre is going dark after Dec. 31 as a buyer is still being sought for the downtown entertainment venue. | Mike Isaacs~Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 18, 2011 8:42AM
After a year reprieve, the Skokie Theatre will shut its doors at the end of 2011 until further notice, which would likely come when and if the building is sold.
The threat of closing the entertainment venue in downtown Skokie was a real possibility last year after it went into receivership and was bought by First American Bank. The bank’s commitment to keep the theater open in 2011 came with some hope that it might be sold during the year and saved from going dark.
The Skokie Chamber of Commerce also helped spearhead fundraising efforts for the theater, and the theater advertised expanded uses to try to bring in more revenue. Last year, for example, it hosted a civil union ceremony and advertised it was available for other rental functions.
But it wasn’t enough, said Brian Hoffman of Red Seal Development in Northbrook which represents the receiver.
“It’s disappointing, but the theater was unable to cover its costs of operating,” Hoffman said. “It was really that simple.”
In many ways, the theater ran into some terrible timing after there was so much hope.
One of Skokie’s oldest buildings and the first one in the village to have air conditioning, it was purchased in 2004 by a non-profit organization that changed its name to the Skokie Theatre Music Foundation.
The Foundation poured $1.5 million into the deteriorating facility, which had been used to show second-run movies for many years. By the time the renovation was complete, the theater had been transformed into an intimate state-of-the-art entertainment venue seating 140 patrons and with acoustics second to none.
Skokie Theatre Music Foundation Executive Director Bob Acri, an entertainment lawyer and business advisor, wanted the theater to serve two purposes: to educate young musicians about the intricacies of business in their chosen fields and to serve as home to a variety of performances.
But Acri and others didn’t foresee the devastating decline in the economy that put similar theaters in jeopardy.
The Foundation was in the process of renegotiating its loan with the Town Community Bank of Antioch when federal authorities closed the bank, creating what turned out to be an insurmountable hurdle. The bank was reopened by First American Bank, but a renegotiated loan was out of the question resulting in receivership status.
That same bank purchased the theater last year during a foreclosure sale by the Cook County Sheriff’s Office. Under the sales agreement, the bank’s receiver stayed on and oversaw operations.
The Skokie Theatre has not announced it will close in 2012, but artists scheduled to perform there after Dec. 31 have been notified, Hoffman confirmed.
The calendar displayed on the theater’s website is now blank after December.
Popular singer Charlene Brooks, who has performed at the theater several times, sent out an e-mail this week to her fans.
“Next week will be my final performance at the Skokie Theatre,” she said. “The bank is pulling the plug, and the theater will be going dark as of 12/31.”
She said the theater was very close to her heart.
“It has always felt like home to me,” she said.
Hoffman said the bank could have closed the theater before now.
“I give the current owner great credit for keeping the theater open for a year,” he said. “It reflected a very, very strong commitment to the theater and to trying to make it work. Unfortunately, we were not able to make a go of it.”
When and if the theater will open again are all unanswerable questions right now. Skokie leaders continue to try to revitalize downtown, and a plethora of new restaurants have opened there in the last year.
The Skokie Theatre first opened in 1912 and was a studio lot where some of the earliest silent movies were made.