The chain most synonymous with the great Chicago movie palaces, Balaban & Katz, expanded its holdings with the 1929 acquisition of another theater group, Lubliner & Trinz. Robert Lubliner and Bruce Trinz, Phi Epsilon Pi fraternity brothers of my father at the University of Illinois, would later enter the theater business, owning such notables as the Edens Theatres in Northbrook and the Clark Theater in downtown Chicago. Both passed away in their 90s in recent years.
Phi Epsilon Pi, 1938
Trinz and Lubliner are 2nd and 3rd from left, 3rd row
My father is 1st from left, 1st row
Lubliner & Trinz began as a florist business at the end of the 19th century. At the beginning of the 20th century, various members of the two families began operating vaudeville and stage venues and later movies. The principals were Harry Lubliner and brothers Joseph (who bought the Franks family home in Kenwood shortly after Bobby Franks was murdered by Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb) and Samuel Trinz. The company eventually had almost thirty locations in Chicago and Milwaukee before selling out to Balaban & Katz in 1929. Balaban & Katz, which in turn had been sold to Famous Players-Lasky Corp. in 1925, was founded in 1916.
Only two theaters are now showing films, and two others are concert/stage venues. Most of the others – most notably those on the formerly Jewish West Side – have long since been demolished, while a few have found adaptive reuses. Here’s a review of its notable theaters.
Ironically, there’s very little information on Lubliner & Trinz’ ownership of its most famous location, the Biograph Theater. What is known is the architect for the 1914 theater at 2433 N. Lincoln Ave. was Samuel N. Crowen, Birth of a Nation was shown there, and it once featured a Wurlitzer organ. The Biograph, now the home of the Victory Gardens Theater, was owned by Essaness Theatres when John Dillinger was killed outside by FBI men in 1934.
Its most opulent current location is the Congress Theater at 2117 N. Milwaukee Avenue. The movie and vaudeville theater when it opened in 1926 was built by Fridstein and Company (the Fridsteins lived on the bottom floor of the two-flat my grandparents owned on S. Bennett Avenue in South Shore). It seated almost 2,900 people. The Congress was part of the Balaban & Katz acquisition and later became the Teatro Azteca in the 1970s. The venue featured Spanish-language films, boxing matches and films. It was threatened with demolition in 2000 but since has been renovated into a 3,500-seat concert hall.
The Davis Theater in Lincoln Square opened as the Pershing Theater in 1918. During the 1930s, the Davis began screening German-language films, which continued at the 4614 N. Lincoln location into the 1970s. It was divided into four screens at that time and still shows a combination of art and first-run films.
The other current movie house, the Logan Theatre, reopened in March 2012 after an extensive renovation. The former Paramount Theater, designed by Walter W. Ahlschlager, is located in Logan Square at 2646 N. Milwaukee Avenue. Seating has been reduced from 975 to 595.
Former Lubliner & Trinz theaters that avoided the wrecking ball have various new uses.
The Lakeside Theatre was acquired from Ascher Brothers in 1917, two years after its opening. The theater at 4730 N. Sheridan Road in Uptown closed in late 1966 or early 1967 and was occupied by the Dance Center of Columbia College from 1970 to 2000. It now houses Alternatives, a child and family services center.
Former Lakeside Theatre
Only the façade remains from the Belmont Theater, which formerly seated 3,265 for stage shows and films. Also designed by Walter W. Ahlschlager, the Belmont opened in 1925 at 1635 W. Belmont Avenue. It was converted into a bowling alley in the mid-1960s, which closed about 20 years later. The Belmont is now the Cinema Lofts, a retail/condominium complex constructed in 1996.
Former Belmont Theatre
The Belpark Theatre on Chicago’s Northwest Side opened in 1927. Its capacity was about 2,000. Its movie-theater days ended in the mid-1950s, becoming a warehouse and banquet hall. The Golden Tiara, a bingo hall, is the present occupant at 3261 N. Cicero Ave.
Former Belpark Theatre
Robert Lubliner and Bruce Trinz were both 12 years old when the namesake theater chain was sold to Balaban & Katz. After graduating from the University of Illinois and serving in the armed forces during World War II, each made their marks on the local cinema scene.
Bob Lubliner owned a number of area movie theaters, including the McClurg Court, Edens I and II (Trinz was a co-owner) and the Willow Creek. The original Edens Theatre in Northbrook was an architectural and aesthetic masterpiece. Built for $500,000 with top-of-the-line finishes and designed by Perkins & Will, the Edens featured the world’s largest “hyperbolic paraboloid” structure in the world when it opened in 1963. Because of its unique design, expansion was not possible, and the Edens II was constructed in 1967. Although my father had left his public-accounting firm to enter private industry at the time, he still served as the Edens’ auditor (a number of Phi Eps were investors in the theater), for which we received a free family pass.
Bob Lubliner sold his interests in the theaters and moved into a houseboat in Florida until passing away at age 91 in 2009. The Edens’ last owner, Cineplex Odeon, let the theaters deteriorate and, unable to be retrofitted for multi-screens, the complex was sold and razed in 1994, ironically by Speedway Wrecking, my father’s former client that also demolished Comiskey Park. A strip mall took their place.