FEATURE Image: The Pickwick Theatre Building, an Art Deco movie palace, opened in 1928. Its marquee is one of the most recognized structures in Park Ridge, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. The marquee became famous nationwide when it was featured in the opening sequence of the nationally syndicated television show, Gene Siskel & Roger Ebert’s At the Movies. Author’s photograph.
The Pickwick Theatre Building was designed by architectural partners R. Harold Zook (1889-1949) and younger engineer and architect William F. McCaughey (pronounced McCoy). The complex includes a movie auditorium, restaurant, storefronts and offices. Both architects apprenticed under Howard Van Doren Shaw (1869-1926), a leading Arts and Crafts architect and early colleague to Frank Lloyd Wright. Zook and McCaughey did significant work in other affluent Chicago suburbs and out of state. Zook designed homes in Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois, including his own quirky home in Hinsdale, Illinois, in 1924 where he resided until his death in 1949 (see –https://www.ourmidland.com/realestate/article/Designed-by-R-Harold-Zook-This-Quirky-Illinois-16056515.php – retrieved April 25, 2023). Zook’s public buildings included the St. Charles Municipal Building (1939) and the DuPage County Courthouse (1937). Zook and McCaughey had also partnered to design and build Maine East High School (1927). For a photograph of R. Harold Zook, see-http://www.zookhomeandstudio.org/r-harold-zook.html – retrieved April 25, 2023. McCaughey was born in Virginia and came to Illinois in 1916. He made his home in Park Ridge for many years and maintained an office in the new Pickwick Theater Building he designed.
Originally, the theater had a seating capacity of 1,450. The tower is 100 feet tall with a decorative limestone sunburst carving and capped by an ornamental 15-foot iron lantern. The sunburst is filled by stained glass while on each side of the central tower are two shorter matching pedestals capped with their own lanterns. The building faces both Northwest Highway and Prospect Avenue in nearly equal dimensions (the Prospect side is about 12 feet longer).The building is capped by a cornice with dentils as its second-floor window bays are separated by art deco piers. Each façade meets at a rounded corner. The base of the tower is met by its massive cast-iron theatre marquee.
The Pickwick Theater Building was erected at a major intersection not far from today’s Metra Union Pacific line commuter railroad station. By 1930, when the theater building was new, the population of Park Ridge had grown to 10,000 residents. (In 2020 there were almost 40,000 residents).
Classic Art Deco
In addition to being on the National Register of Historic Places, The Pickwick Theater Building is noted for its Art Deco style of architecture. Art Deco is defined by its emphasis on geometric designs, bright colors, and a range of ornament and motifs. Zook and McCaughey’s romantic style demonstrates that they were as much artists as architects evident in their distinctive designs, use of natural materials, and quality of craftsmanship.
Sculptor and designer Alfonso Iannelli (1888-1965), who maintained a studio and home in Park Ridge, contributed much to the Pickwick’s interior architecture and ornamentation. Iannelli ‘s decorative work for the building extended to the sculptures, murals, fire curtain, plaster panels, and even its Wurlitzer organ console as well as the cast-iron marquee outside. In 1990, the theater expanded the Pickwick’s screenings without altering the original auditorium while the marquee’s original 1928 red-and-gold color scheme and treatment was restored in 2012.
On December 6, 2022 it was announced the Pickwick Theatre would be closed in January 2023. At the time of this post’s publishing, the theatre was still open and showing a roster of new films. See – https://www.pickwicktheatre.com/ – retrieved April 25, 2023.
Alice Sinkevitch, AIA Guide to Chicago, 2nd Edition, Harcourt, Inc., Orlando, 2004, p. 417.
https://patch.com/illinois/niles/bp–an-architect-of-pickwick-theater-comes-alive-when6e80d3da3c – retrieved April 25, 2023
https://www.parkridgehistorycenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2012-January-Lamppost.pdf – retrieved April 25, 2023.
http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/302 – retrieved April 25, 2023
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Green, Betty. Zook: A Look at R. Harold Zook’s Unique Architecture. Chicago: Ampersand, Inc., 2010.
Jameson, David. Alfonso Iannelli: Modern by Design. Oak Park, IL: Top Five Books, 2013. Alfonso Iannelli: Modern by Design (Top-Five-Books, 2013)
Preservation Real Estate Advisors. Pickwick Theater Building Nomination for Landmark Designation.Park Ridge, IL: Park Ridge Historic Preservation Commission, 2010.
Yanul, Thomas G., and Paul E. Sprague, “Pickwick Theater Building,” Cook County, Illinois. National Register of Historic Places Inventory–Nomination Form, 1974. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.