Built in 1924, the York Theatre in Elmhurst City Centre is Classic Cinemas second oldest theatre. Designed by noted theatre architect Elmer Behrns, it opened on Labor Day, featuring a Spanish motif and a $20,000 Barton pipe organ. A photograph from 1925 shows an ornate marquee lit by tiny light bulbs.
The York kept up with the times and in April 1938 was changed to an Art Deco style both inside and out. One major change to the exterior façade began in June 1938 when the original Spanish-style marquee was taken down and a new Art Deco stainless steel and porcelain high-rise marquee was installed. The exterior was designed by Roy Blasé, one the foremost theatrical architects in the country. The new marquee created a tower effect and included a canopy, containing 1,000 light bulbs, and was designed to throw an indirect light onto the highly reflective stainless steel and porcelain tower. There was also nearly 1,000 feet of neon lighting on the canopy to illuminate the sidewalk in front of the theatre.
Classic Cinemas acquired the York in 1982, and in 1991 an extensive renovation was done. Originally, Classic Cinemas intended to turn the large single screen theatre into two auditoriums. Instead it created three auditoriums and saved many of the historic elements of the main auditorium, including the proscenium arch and stage as well as the Spanish-style organ grills. The interior of the theatre was returned to its original Spanish décor. The light fixtures, which had graced the walls of the original theatre were cleaned, re-polished, and now hang in the lobby and two of the smaller auditoriums.
An archeological dig was made by some of Classic Cinemas’ workers to uncover the original orchestra pit. It now holds a two-manual seven-rank Barton pipe organ, that was originally installed in the Rialto Theatre in Champaign, IL in 1925.
Over the years, the beautiful marquee, long identified with the York, had deteriorated. Classic Cinemas re-polished all the stainless steel, replaced porcelain panels and installed new neon. Now its flashing lights are as inviting to moviegoers as they were over 70 years ago.
In 1993 the Classic Cinemas purchased the building next door where Keeler Candy had been and two more auditoriums were added. The sound systems were all upgraded in 1997 to HPS-4000 digital surround sound.
In May, 2003, the theatre kicked off an expansion project which included adding screens and renovating areas of the existing theatre. The addition included two new auditoriums with stadium seating, which brought the total number of auditoriums to seven. The project also included adding stadium seating to the existing largest auditorium, a redesigned lobby with an expanded refreshment stand and ticketing stations, two new party rooms and additional restrooms. It also restored the historic white terra cotta façade to the South of the building formerly occupied by Leonard's Men's Store and developed new retail space fronting York Street.
The final phase of the expansion project was completed in the Spring of 2006, bringing the total number of auditoriums to nine. Outside of auditoriums 7, 8, & 9, you can find "Lost Elmhurst" in ten art panels. The original works, by local artists, capture Elmhurst's treasures of the past. The Spring of 2006 also saw the installation of a new LED marquee, bringing even more light and life to York Street.
In September, 2004, the York celebrated its 80th anniversary, and received an historical marker from the Elmhurst Historical Museum that can been seen on the outside of the building. The plaque was presented to Willis Johnson, Classic Cinemas President, in a dedication ceremony with speeches by Elmhurst Historical Commission Vice President, Scott Smith, Elmhurst Mayor, Thomas Marcucci, and Illinois State Representative, Lee Daniels. A special showing of the classic film, Singin' in the Rain followed the ceremony with all proceeds from the $2 admission going to the Elmhurst Historical Museum.
Classic Cinemas was the recipient of the 2005-2006 ELMHURST BEAUTIFICATION RECOGNITION AWARD. In recognition of its commitment to make Elmhurst an ideal location for business, family and life.
In November 2011 the York Theatre opened its 10th screen and Classic Cinemas' 100th. Built in what had been a parking lot behind retail stores. The new auditorium is equipped with Digital 3D Projection and 180 seats.
On March 12, 2012 all auditoriums were updated with Enhanced 4K Digital Projection and Datasat Sound Processors.
For theatre history buffs, the museum and archives of the Theatre Historical Society of America are on the building's second floor. It offers free admission to a gallery featuring changing exhibits and artifacts from the golden age of American Movie Palaces.
Take a "Virtual Tour” of the York Theatre (link will open a new browser window).