‘Chicago Tonight’ in Your Neighborhood: New 400 Theaters Facing Closure After More Than 100 Years in Rogers Park

Tony Fox never planned to own a movie theater.

“I’ll never forget having the customers around the block when we first opened,” Fox said. “It was really exciting.”

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Fox bought The New 400 Theaters and surrounding storefronts in 2007 as a redevelopment project. Two years later, he began operating the theater, which has been open in Rogers Park for more than 100 years.

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“I thought it had a lot of potential,” Fox said. “At that point, the entire patio had Village North theater signs. The first thing I did was redevelop the patio, and then we gutted the theater and redeveloped it.”

Fourteen years and thousands of movie tickets later, Fox said he’s ready to get out of show business.

“It’s been up and down,” Fox said. “Sometimes we are completely sold out and it gets you excited and thinking you have business traction, and then the next week, empty.”

Now the movie theater is in jeopardy of permanently closing. Rogers Park resident Dona Vitale knows all about the theater’s long history.

“The 400 Theater was originally called the Regent Theater when it opened in 1913,” Vitale said. “And when it opened, it showed all the first-run silent films including ‘The Perils of Pauline.’”

Digging through the Rogers Park/West Ridge Historical Society archives, Vitale found pictures and stories of a theater that has also served as a community hub.

“In World War I they used to have a thing called the ‘4-minute man program,’ which was a live person from the government who would come during intermission in the theater and give people an update on the war,” Vitale said.

At one point, there were up to 10 cinemas in the neighborhood, Vitale said. But The New 400 Theaters is the only one left.

“It would be really good for the neighborhood if we could keep it going and operating as a theater,” Vitale added, “so I hope there’s somebody out there that will do that.”

That’s what Fox is banking on as potential buyers come to look at the property.

“I’m hoping one of the bigger movie operators comes and takes it over and keeps it as a movie theater,” Fox said. “I can’t guarantee that, of course.”

There’s even a neighborhood initiative called the New 400 Street Team, a group of locals holding community movie nights to keep the theater in business.

Some residents are concerned the historic building could be demolished. But Ald. Maria Hadden (49th Ward) said Fox has been working with her to make sure that doesn’t happen.

“It’s also in the lakefront protection zone, so there are a lot more stringent restrictions on what can be built and what could be changed there,” Hadden said.

The intimate theater still has hidden gems of its past. In theater one, you can still find a column from 1912 — one of the many reasons Fox said he loves the theater.

“I love Rogers Park,” Fox said, “and I’m so grateful to everybody who ever came to the theater.”

Community Reporting Series

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