Brookfield’s first movie theater opened in 1907, when the Ideal Entertainment Company began showing “Moving pictures?”more and better than ever before,” at 25 cents for adults, and 15 cents for children. This first theater was at Melville Hall, 8865 Burlington Blvd.
Eight years later, in 1915, the Brookfield Theater, later known as the Strand, was showing movies and live vaudeville acts at around the same price. When the theater, located in the 3700 block of Grand Boulevard, closed during the winter of 1952-53, the quarter-dollar admission price still stood firm.
I would’ve liked to go to that theater, but I was only 6 months old when it closed, and our family was still living in Cicero (we moved to Brookfield when I was 5 years old). I became aware of the Strand Theater when I was 8, and it fascinated me to know that one had existed here. I hoped it would reopen someday.
Otherwise, the nearest theater was the LaGrange, at 80 S. LaGrange Road. It was much more of a genuine, classic movie palace compared to the Strand.
Ah, the LaGrange! I remember back when that theater was one, big, cavernous movie house?”not a bunch of movie rooms. My gosh, when I entered that theater, I knew something special was going to happen. There seemed to be an acre of seats in it and a large screen that could wrap up a sailing ship. I sat down, clutching my 20-cent box of popcorn, and got ready for an experience. Then the lights faded, and a sharp shaft of light flung itself down from the sky, onto the brilliant white screen.
The movie began, but it wasn’t all of the show. No, the theater was a part of it, too. The ceiling overhead had on it a painting, something classical in style, probably installed when the theater opened in 1925, and never touched since. Every time I looked at it, I was reminded of Michelangelo’s painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
Sure, sometimes the floors were a little sticky from spilled drinks and melted ice cream, but I wasn’t too upset by this. As a kid, I was going on Saturday afternoons, with hundreds of other kids. If the floor was clean, I would’ve wondered why.
When I was 12, I’d tell my Ma I was going out on a “bike hike,” or maybe I just wouldn’t even say where. She and I had a certain understanding that wherever I went, I was to be home by supper. Then I’d make tracks for the theater.
I was one of those rare boys who always looked older than I really was, and I never had any trouble getting in to see some grown-up movie, like “Charade,” with Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn. I can still remember the movie’s theme music, and whenever I hear it, it always conjures up memories of my first experience watching a grown-up movie, all by myself.
So, sometimes I went to the theater, scraping up the 75- or 90-cent admission price. I never got in at child’s prices?”such is the curse of looking older. I saw Jerry Lewis films back when they were still funny, and John Wayne westerns (Dang! They were great! I loved “The War Wagon.”) I even saw the first Pink Panther movie, which, at first, I thought was going to be a cartoon, as the opening credits rolled. But then it faded into live action, and I instantly became a Peter Sellers fan.
Don’t get me wrong. I still was seeing kid’s films, too. The first “Herbie the Love Bug” movie and, later, “Chitty, Chitty, Bang Bang.” In my teen years, I even dared to see the original “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” movie. Sorry, the recent version of that movie just doesn’t measure up.
I rocketed into the realm of science fiction with “The Time Machine,” “2001: A Space Odyssey” and?”regrettably?””Santa Claus Versus the Martians,” a turkey of a Christmastime Saturday matinee movie.
By the time I was approaching legal adulthood, movies cost $1.25 and $1.50, and the price of popcorn and candy wasn’t exactly standing still, either. Then, in the early 1980s, the owner of the LaGrange Theater chopped up the grand old movie house into “movie apartments” and covered up the frescoed ceiling, cheapening the movie-going experience.
That was something that could’ve never happened to the little Brookfield Strand, had it survived. In a way, it was ahead of its time. It really wasn’t much bigger than a current multiplex theater room. But even though I never saw one movie in it, I still miss the Strand by way of knowing its history.
Well, at least the LaGrange Theater is still one of those $2 bargain ones, and not one of those modern multiplexes that take close to $10 from you, and seem to think they’re doing you a favor by doing it. As for me, I wait for the DVDs of the movies to come out and watch them in the privacy of my own “theater.” The popcorn is way cheaper and the floors aren’t nearly so sticky.