Located in the heart of Lincoln Square at 4614 N. Lincoln, the Davis Theatre has been Chicago’s “neighborhood movie theatre” for almost a century. This local movie theatre may look ordinary, but it has a thrilling past that would rival Hollywood’s best.
Once known as the Pershing theatre, the Davis was one of five other movie theatres built in Lincoln Square after World War I. The Pershing opened its doors in 1918 as a silent movie theatre complete with an organ. The first movie every played for audiences was “The Forbidden City” starring the beautiful Norma Talmadge in a double role. Two years later the Pershing gained notoriety of its own when it was featured in one of Chicago’s most terrible crimes. Known as “The Case of the Ragged Stranger”, the story was straight out of a Hollywood film. A young war veteran named Carl Wanderer was escorting his pregnant wife home after a night out. They were held up by a gunman in the entryway of the Pershing theatre and a fight ensued, leaving both Wanderer’s wife and the gunman dead. After much investigation the Chicago Police determined that Wanderer was the culprit. He had hired the gunman to kill his wife, Wanderer was hung a year later for his crimes.
So how did this old fashioned movie house become the theatre we know today? With the introduction of “talkies” the Pershing decided to upgrade in 1930 for the whopping price of $100,000 (around a million dollars today). They celebrated with a grand opening inviting over 2,000 people and even had a seal of approval from the famous Clara Bow.
The Pershing changed hands many times over the next few decades. It become a German language theatre at one point and sought a new audience with puppet shows, revivals, and more before falling into a second run theatre. It was renamed the Davis Theatre in 1986. In the late 90’s the theatre was in jeopardy after a developer bought the building planning to demolish it for condos. This is when the Lincoln Square neighborhood stepped in. A fierce campaign began to save the beloved neighborhood theatre and it was soon purchased by the Davis Theater Preservation Corporation. They later sold it to Tom Fencl who is the current owner and loves every bit of the old vintage movie house. Today the Davis is a favorite amongst the residents and it’s the only movie theatre in the city where you can still find first run shows at reasonable prices. They are currently showing the latest round of Oscar films and for the cost of a ticket you can enjoy a great movie along with a slice of Chicago history.