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Preservationists Perplexed by Plot Twist

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The Des Plaines Theater Preservation Society was taken by surprise last month when its raison d'etre was suddenly sold. The 79-year-old, 1,000-seat art deco vaudeville house--designed by Betts and Holcum, revamped as part of the Balaban chain in the 1930s, and turned into a second-run, twin-screen venue in the 1980s--had been closed since it was purchased earlier this year by Mount Prospect National Bank, which was planning to raze it to make way for a new branch. The society, which began as a mayoral task force, was getting its nonprofit paperwork in order so that it could raise money to buy the building and turn it into an arts center, when the bank abandoned its plan and sold it to Dhitu Bhagwakar, the most recent tenant. Bhagwakar, who had been running the theater as a Bollywood house, paid $920,000 and has reopened with the same fare, though he hopes to screen American movies as well. Society president John Kleinschmidt says his organization couldn't come up with a down payment fast enough to compete, but still hopes to raise money to purchase the building and restore it to its former glory, complete with pipe organ. In the meantime the group is "shifting gears" to programming and continuing efforts to get the theater registered as a National Historic Landmark. At 8 PM on Saturday, December 13, the society (in conjunction with the Silent Film Society of Chicago) will screen Buster Keaton's The General, with organ accompaniment by Jay Warren, at a fund-raiser at the Pickwick Theatre, 5 S. Prospect in Park Ridge. Tickets are $12; call 847-692-6590.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/courtesy of Des Plaines Historical Society.

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