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When Movies Were Movies


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Dear Editor:

Many thanks to Grant Pick for the comprehensive history of the Patio Theatre (Reader, 6/23/95) and to Alex Kouvalis for his dedication in refurbishing and operating this landmark movie house.

In the 1940s, I was growing up in an unincorporated village on the fringe of sprawling farmlands (later the suburb of Norridge). Any trip to Chicago was an adventure that began with a four-block walk to Irving Park Road and a ride on the Chicago Surface Lines shuttle bus that went to the edge of the Schiller Woods forest preserve at Pueblo (Cumberland) Avenue.

The bus took us to Neenah Avenue, where it met with the Irving Park trolley line at the entrance to the old Dunning state hospital. (Many a parent of that era cautioned their children never to talk to the people who reached through the iron bar fencing.) Via the Irving streetcar (sometimes with transfers to a north- or southbound car or the "L") we could reach the remotest areas of town.

My pals and I made almost weekly forays to Saturday matinees at all the northwest-side theatres. During the summer, we sometimes took in an additional Sunday-afternoon show. On rare occasions we would make a day of it and venture all the way to the Loop and one of the truly lavish downtown movie palaces.

Usually, though, we stayed closer to home. The Gateway, Will Rogers, Mont Clare, Irving and Portage offered first-run films (after downtown) that appealed to all ages. More often we were lured to the Times, Jeff, Luna, Commodore and Patio, which catered more to the young crowd and added cliff-hanger serials and cartoons to the double feature. The Times was noted for bunching three similar films (comedy, cowboys, horror, etc) on one matinee bill or occasionally screening 15 or more cartoons nonstop.

For all the choices then available, we nonetheless spent at least half our theatre time at the Patio. It eventually got most of the films we might have seen at other theatres, and it was simply the easiest to get to. We could arrive early enough to get our pick of seating, and stay through the second showing of cartoon, serial and previews without catching what-for when we got home.

Maybe we half-consciously noted the ornate Moorish decor, the stars-and-clouds ceiling design. Basically, though, we patronized the Patio because it was convenient and hospitable. The ushers were polite but stern, the theatre was clean, the popcorn was delicious, the kids were well behaved and the matinees were geared to our youthful tastes. During the Patio's run of some serials (like my hero, Batman), I attended faithfully for 15 weeks so as not to miss a single chapter.

One plus was the Andes Candies store on the neighboring corner. If we were flush with a little extra change after the show, we could indulge in the richest milk shakes on the northwest side anywhere but the Buffalo Confectionery.

Neighborhoods, and especially kids, have lost something precious with the demise of local movie theatres. I treasure the memory of riding those Red Rocket trolleys to the Patio and others. Whatever your opinion of today's movie fare, watching in a multitheatre box is not the same experience.

I applaud Alex Kouvalis for keeping the Patio intact, and I will soon make a pilgrimage there as a token of support and homage.

Dan McGuire


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