Building That Houses Charlie's Was Once A Movie Theater
Visitors to the Grayslake Heritage Center and Museum can sit in a short row of red cushioned theater seats and pretend they are watching a silent movie during the 1920s in the Star Moving-Picture Theater on Center Street in downtown Grayslake.
The four attached seats, each with armrests, are part of the Grayslake Historical Sociey's displays in the archives in the basement of the museum at 164 Hawley St. in downtown Grayslake. The exhibits in the archives are open to the public, but visitors must be accompanied by the museum archivist.
The Star theater is part of the colorful history of what is known as the George Thayer Building at 255 Center St. The building, after several renovations and the addition of a beer garden, is now occupied by Charlie's Garden Club, a popular tavern and gathering place in the village.
The movie theater was established by Peter Newhouse in 1920. Grayslake pianists Margaret VanZandt Hook and Lois White provided background music for the silent movies. Hook began working at the theater when she was 12 years old and played there for several years. Later, phonograph records were used for the musical backgrounds.
Despite the popularity of the silent movies, the theater closed around 1929.
Movies in Grayslake were a popular entertainment attraction. As early as 1909 the Antioch Electric Theater Co. produced a bi-weekly "Moving Picture Show and Illustrated Songs" program at the popular Opera House at 219-221 Center St. It was used for movie entertainment by several companies from the 1910s through the mid-1940s.
The first outdoor movies were shown in the early 1940s during the summer months in the vacant lot at the northeast corner of Center and Whitney streets.
In 1948, the Grayslake Family Outdoor Theater opened at the southeast corner of routes 83 and 120. It remained as one of the last outdoor movie theaters in the Chicago area until it was torn down a few years ago. The Jewel shopping mall is there now.
The history of the George Thayer building, home of the Star Theater, began in 1889 when George Thayer purchased a vacant lot and built a two-story frame building that became perhaps the first saloon and billiard parlor in town.
The saloon and tavern continued to operate for several years by various proprietors until 1916 when Prohibiition forced it to close.
It remained vacant for about four years until Peter Newhouse purchased it and began major reconstruction projects. He added a 26-foot extension onto the original length of 60 feet. He opened the Star theater on June 5, 1920 and contiinued to operate the theater into the late 1920s. In 1934, the building resumed its former role as a tavern when William C. Collins purchased the building from Newhouse and opened his tavern. He sold the building and business in 1963 to his son-in-law Jim Davis.
Hours at the museum are noon to 4 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and during the Farmers' Market on Wednesday evenings and during other downtown Grayslake events.
--Contributed by the Grayslake Historical Society