Unfortunately, this image does not capture the romance and magic of the theater interior, the wide variety of colors and textures is missing as is the artful lighting. The Avalon had a sense of the Arabian Nights about it, making it a delightful place to see a show, which in those days was always a double feature, costing kids just twenty-five cents.

The Avalon – which still stands, although it has been much changed and defaced as a fundamentalist church – was the largest and grandest of our neighborhood theaters.

South Shore had a amazing variety of theaters – we called them “shows” – in those days. The east side of Exchange, just south of 79th Street, had the smaller Chelten, the west end had the Avalon (near Stony Island).

Stony Island Avenue had the Stony.

75th Street had the nice little Shore Theater – the site of raucus twenty-five cartoon shows on Saturday mornings complete with flying popcorn boxes and the odd sticky candy landing in the dark – and east from Exchange Ave, the little-known Ray, a tiny place to which I never went.

71st Street had the large and beautiful Jeffery (near the street of the same name) and the Hamilton, a somewhat smaller but nice theater, further east.

Except for the Stony, these were all within walking distance, at least the “walking distance” of those days which was a mile or two for many people.


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  1. I remember the Avalon very well, and used to just about live in the Shore, which was just two blocks from my apartment at 76th and Colfax. Those cartoon shows were mainstays — nearly psychedelic experiences. I actually frequented all those theaters over the years. Do you remember Jeffrey Pool in the summers — that indoor pool in an apartment building at around 73rd and Jeffrey?

  2. The Ray Theatre was mentioned on 75th St. just east of Exchange Ave. I think the theatre was turned into an indoor ice skating rink but what was the name of it???? Thanks for any insight. 🙂

    • In it’s day it changed features 4 times a week and had 3 three “B films. Used to go there 3 or for times a week!! This was in the late to early 1940’s and 1950’s. Great low budget show for $0.25 For top shows we would have to “sneak into” the Shore theater a short walk west!

      • Hi Dennis,

        The Shore was east, a good deal east, of the Avalon, also on 75th versus 79th.

        Time does play tricks on memories.

        John Chuckman

      • Sorry’ I was talking about the Ray theater on 75 and just east of Exchange (ICRR tracks) A short distance from the Shore where “Upscale” shows were. The Shore also had Saturday “serials” to get you to return next week for the next “chapter”
        My memories for the Avalon were the Arabian nights decor and the high and far balconies!
        All good clean memories!
        My bad memories were when a Bradwell girl was under a streetcar on Coles at 78Th st and another Bradwell girl lost her leg under an IC train at 76th St. Both occured in late 1940’s!

        Dennis McCarron
  3. I have many fond memories of the Avalon. My grandfather was the projection operator there for many years. I used to spend many Saturdays there with him watching from the projection room. The interior was magical. The statues were outstanding.
    Also, my mother was the manager at the Hamilton and as a little girl I spent time in the Ticket booth with the ticket lady and at 5 and 6 years old knew how to dispense tickets, “helped” the ushers and helped myself at the candy counter.
    Those were wonderful times. I almost overdosed on Peter Pan. Does anyone remember how near Halloween, we’d go to the show in costume and compete for prizes?

    • Thanks for your interesting comment, Peg.

      I guess you could say yours was a movie theater family.

      I had forgotten that Halloween custom.

      We had so many customs that Halloween was always a favorite magical time of mine.

      We used to march around Bradwell in costume. It was a delightful little festival. Then we had class pictures taken in costume, a delightful custom I never saw anywhere else.

      If you have any decent images of theaters like the Hamilton of Jeffrey, I’d love to post them.

  4. Glad I found this, went to the Avalon every Sat for kids cartoons etc in the 50’s. It was a magical place and I still remember the birds hanging from the ceiling. It was always a great place to spend Sat’s when I was a kid. We lived at 79th & Kingston and while the Cheltenham was closer, The Avalon was the beautiful magical place to go. And yes we walked to them. Thanks for the memories.

    • Hi,

      Thanks for comment.

      If you lived at 79th and Kingston, maybe you knew my friend, Preston Uney, who lived on Kingston, the first house south of the alley?

      I remember the Cheltenham well. And the Shore, the Hamilton, and the Jeffery. There was also the tiny Ray which I never went to and was out of business early in my time. And people sometimes went to the Stony . We had an amazing choice of places, any of them more exciting and interesting than the boring multi-plexes today.

      And of course the Avalon was the truly magical place, the Aladdin’s Castle of movie theaters.

      John Chuckman

  5. Nice! My grandfather was the movie projectionist at the Avalon. My mother managed the Hamilton. I spent many hours at both as a child.

  6. thank you to those of you who have shared your memories here. i was raised in the bush in the early 60’s and do remember these places because of my family members talking about going to the show to these gems. i honestly do not remember going to any of these (the cheltenham being the exception) as a kid but would not be surprised if i didnt tag along a few times with a family member. i love collecting old photographs and would like to see any newly posted ones soon. do any of you remember the ‘commercial or gayety’ shows on commercial ave.?

    • Hi Mike,

      On my other Chicago site, a much, much larger one – Chicago Nostalgia and Memorabilia – you’ll find at least one image of the Gayety Theater. Just use the search box at bottom of the page.

      John Chuckman

  7. I recall the theater you refer to as the Cheltenham as the Chelten. It was on the east side of Exchange Avenue, near the intersection of 79th and Exchange. My uncle had a dental office in an adjoining building.

    A block south of the Gayety Theater was the irresistible Gayety’s Ice Cream Parlor. I remember crowding into the wooden booths there after looong days at nearby SS. Peter & Paul High School. Hot fudge sundaes and hand-dipped chocolates to die for!

    • You are right, Judith.

      One of those glitches of memory.

      Cheltenham was the name of the I.C. station nearby, and I believe that name characterized the immediate area in early days, just as Windsor Park characterized South Shore around 75th.

      John Chuckman

  8. I lived at 7538 South Essex as a child during the 1940s; one of the great advantages of that address was having the Shore Theatre just around the corner. The Ray at 75th and Exchange was the closest I’ve come to Paradise in this life, especially on Saturdays, when it had 3 movies (most from the 30s and usually B movies at that), cartoons, and, of course, a serial (Batman was my favorite, closely followed by Nyoka, the Jungle Girl). I’ve managed in the many years since to win many a movie trivia competion thanks to seeing just about every B movie made in the 30s at the Ray. The Avalon was of course, for special times and I’d ride my bike up there (I distinctly recall at once becoming a Doris Day fan when I saw her in her first film, “Romance on the High Seas,” with Jack Carson. I was in my usual seat in the balcony and outfitted with the standard box of JuJu Fruits.). For some reason, I always walked to the Jeffrey, Hamilton, and Chelten. I’ve told many people through the years that my childhood was spent in movie theatres and so it seems. They were grand places and I treasure the memory of those years in South Shore and Windsor Park. If a genie ever gives me just one wish, it would be to be a child again with my family on Essex Avenue in 1943.

    • Hi Edward,

      Although my time was a little later, I have similar memories.

      I walked almost everywhere, including to the Avalon or the Jeffery. I was 24 and living in a different place before I owned a car.

      We lived in modest apartments and never had our own yard, but we never missed anything. The entire local neighborhood seemed like my home, from the alleys and theaters to the beach and the tree-lined streets.

      The alleys were places I collected junk for projects or bottles for candy, and they were often adventurous places as when we had soap box races or kids ran their bikes down “Shore Hill,” the curved delivery ramp behind the theater. Also games with the huge and elaborate back porches and garage roofs.

      I am sure that today in suburban life with often over-protective parents and over-organized activities, children cannot experience the memorable, sweet urban life we did.

      South Shore was a very good place for enjoying these things in safety. Parts of Hyde Park and Kenwood were beautiful and interesting but became increasingly unsafe in my time.

      John Chuckman

  9. One thing I recall about the Shore Theatre was the small pinhole lights in the ceiling simulating stars. The 25 and 50 cartoon shows were reality shifting. Coming out into the bright sun after spending hours in the dark and with a sugar buzz was a unique experience.

    I barely recall going to the Ray Theatre with my mother. Therefore, it must have stopped showing movies around the mid-50s.

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