Old Grove gets another renovation
The Roadhouse, formerly the Prairie Rock Brewery, emerged from the shell of a building constructed 90 years ago as the Grove Theater. The Grove Theater opened on Dec. 7, 1920, the first of three "silent palaces" that once attracted thousands to downtown Elgin.
It was erected by Frank Bodenschatz, who was born near Elgin in 1877. The opening had a double feature, with 25 cents admission (children, 10 cents).
The Grove featured a pipe organ that was said to have cost $10,000. Silent pictures required a musical accompaniment to give the film emotional impact and guide the audience to an understanding of what it was viewing. The organ, first in an Elgin theater, was included in an early advertisement:
"People (will enjoy) the large auditorium, which accommodates one thousand people, and relax in the comfortable seats, watch the play quietly while the rich tones of the organ furnish a harmonious background to the situations pictured on the screen."
Although Bodenschatz retained ownership of the building, beginning in 1923, the Grove was leased to a theater chain that had an advantage over independents in both price and selection when negotiating with film producers.
Today's moviegoers often consult the ratings of reviewers before deciding to see a film; in the 1920s, newspapers simply printed brief descriptions that were always favorable. They were probably composed by studio copywriters. This is an example:
"An unusual treat is being offered to motion picture patrons at the Grove Theater, where Maurice Flynn's new picture is being shown. (The movie) begins with a rush and ends with a roar, figuratively speaking. It contains several rough-and-tumble fights that must have taxed Flynn's well-known athletic ability."
Because it wasn't equipped to show the new "talkies," the Grove closed in 1929. It reopened in 1936 with sound, air conditioning. and new plush carpeting.
Frances Farmer starred in the first offering and in addition, there was a Popeye cartoon, a newsreel, and a comedy short subject. The theater opened its doors at 1 p.m. daily. Admission was 15 cents for adults and 10 cents for children. The Rialto and Crocker on the other side of Grove Avenue, were more expensive.
A federal court ruled in 1949 that one chain could not own all the motion picture houses in a city. Since Publix-Great States Theaters then owned leases on all three Elgin theaters, the Grove operation was sold. When that owner moved to California, the Grove was closed in 1953.
After the Rialto Theater was destroyed by fire late in 1956, leaving only the Crocker operating, a federal court allowed The Grove to reopen. Two theaters permitted a greater variety of showings. John Wayne and William Holden starred when The Grove was back in business in 1959. The renovation included new, wide scats and a wide screen.
The Grove closed for good in 1976.
The Los Pinos Restaurant, specializing in Mexican foods, moved into the building in 1981. The dining room scaled 150 patrons, and the banquet room had a capacity of several hundred. This eatery was succeeded by the Number 1 Soul Food Restaurant before the building again became vacant, ultimately becoming home to the Prairie Rock and now, The Roadhouse.
Days Gone By
|E.C. "Mike" Alft is a former economics teacher at Elgin High School who also taught civics at Elgin Community College. Alft was mayor of Elgin and wrote several books of Elgin's history. He remains active in researching Elgin's past. All of the articles reprinted here were previously published in The Courier News over the past 30 years and are available in bound editions in the Gail Borden Public Library. Alft agreed to allow Boca Jump to reprint his articles for our readers.|