‘Taste of Polonia’ to feature historical look at theater, Jefferson Township




by BRIAN NADIG

A display featuring the history of the Copernicus Center and Jefferson Township will be showcased at the 36th annual “Taste of Polonia” festival on Sept. 2-5.

The festival takes place on the grounds of the center, which includes the former Gateway movie theater that nowadays is used predominantly for cultural events and concerts. The 1,900-seat theater opened in 1930 as one of the city’s first movie palaces built specifically for “talkies,” and in 1979 it became part of a cultural and civic center that was operated by its new owner, the Copernicus Foundation.

Northwest Chicago Historical Society researcher Frank Suerth said that the art deco design of the theater’s ornate lobby and foyer featured ceiling murals by artist Louis Grell. The murals included images of Greek and Roman mythology.

Grell is believed to have hand-painted the murals inside the theater, according to the Louis Grell Foundation. Grell, who lived from 1887 1960, produced artwork for banks, hotels and theaters throughout the country, and in later years, he was commissioned by several churches.

Grell also painted the murals at the Chicago Theater in the Loop and taught at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and at the Art Institute of Chicago. “One of his students was Walt Disney,” Suerth said.

Copernicus Center managing director Gregg Kobelinski said that the murals were gone by the time that the foundation purchased the theater. The foundation later changed the theater’s facade to resemble the Royal Castle and an adjoining clock tower in Warsaw, Poland.

Suerth said that the display also will include 2-by-3-foot boards which will outline the history of Jefferson Township, which the state formed in 1850 and which had 50 buildings by 1855. The Town of Jefferson was incorporated in 1872.

Early settlers named the area’s first post office after President James Monroe, but they later chose President Thomas Jefferson as the community’s namesake after they learned that another town in Illinois was named Monroe, according to the historical society.

The society’s history display will be housed in the center’s annex, a former industrial building that that the center uses for banquets, meetings and live performances. Wunar Automatic Screw Products was once located in the building.

The festival draws up to 30,000 visitors each Labor Day weekend. Hours are 5 to 10 p.m. Friday, noon to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, and noon to 9:30 p.m. Monday.

The festival includes 40 bands on four stages, including classic rock, pop, polka and classical music. There also will be 10 Polish food vendors, a kids’ zone, 35 merchants, a casino, a craft beer tent and carnival rides and games.

More information is available at www.TOPChicago.org.

(Photos courtesy of the Copernicus Foundation)

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(Photos courtesy of the Copernicus Foundation)

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