Chambers plan free fest to celebrate 85th anniversary of Gateway theater at Copernicus


The 85th anniversary of the former Gateway Theater, which is now part of the Copernicus Center, will be celebrated with a free showing of an “Our Gang” comedy short that was shown at the Gateway’s opening day in 1930.

The film will be part of the “Fall Friends and Family Festival” which local chambers of commerce are holding from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 27, at the center, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave.

The free event serves as an opportunity for business owners and residents to network together and enjoy entertainment in the historic 1,850-seat theater and its ornate lobby, said Jefferson Park Chamber of Commerce Promotions Committee chairman Frank Suerth. It is intended for adults and children, he said.

The event will include at talk on the theater’s history at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., followed by a screening of the Our Gang comedy short “The First Seven Years,” and a performance of the Natural Gas comedy team at 7 p.m. Performing in the lobby will be the Schurz High School Jazz Band at 5:30 p.m. and the acoustic band Mister E. Machine at 6:30 p.m.

Suerth said that the Gateway was designed for the new “talkie movies” and was “billed as the most acoustically perfect theater in the whole country” when it opened.

The grand opening included organist Henri Keates, a “World News Reel,” Zane Grey’s “The Light of Western Stars,” starring Richard Arlen and Mary Brian, and the Our Gang short featuring Jackie Cooper, who went on to have a famous career as an adult actor.

Designed by the architectural firm of Rapp and Rapp, the Gateway’s interior includes an atmospheric sky that gives patrons the feeling of sitting outside on a starry night, Suerth said. The firm also designed that Chicago and Oriental theaters in the Loop.

The Copernicus Foundation purchased the Gateway in 1979, and the theater’s facade was later changed to resemble the Royal Castle and an adjoining clock tower in Warsaw, Poland. The theater, which has been refurbished in recent years, has been renamed the Mitchell P. Kobelinski Theater after one of the center’s founders, and nowadays it is used more for live performances than movies.

There is no admission charge, but beer, pop and food, supplied by Smilin Dawgs, are available for purchase. The event is sponsored by the Jefferson Park, Gladstone Park and Edison Park chambers, the Six Corners Association, the Copernicus Center, Nadig Newspapers and Oak Street Health.

For more information, call the Jefferson Park chamber at 773-736-6697.

(photo courtesy of Theatre Historical Society of America)