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Andersonville’s Most Curious Places: the Calo Theater

caloThe next building in our series is the Calo Theater at 5404 N. Clark St. Readers with a good memory might recall that it came up during our discussion of Swedish American State Bank since the two building adjoin, and Hamburger Mary’s straddles the two.

The Calo was originally a movie theatre, part of the Ascher Brothers circuit, which included many other theaters including the Adelphi. It was built in 1915 and is Spanish Baroque Revival style, featuring an elaborate terra-cotta façade. That style is somewhat unusual for this area; it was much more popular in warmer climes such as California, Florida, and Hawaii. The theatre originally seated 880 people, and the building also
included 15 storefronts and 34 offices.

It was designed by George H. Borst, whose firm George & Borst was centered in Philadelphia. However, Borst did design several other buildings in Chicago with fellow architects William Kleinpell and John Todd Hetherington, including several apartment buildings and the Elms Hotel

While the theater has had a lot of changes over the years, switching from movie theater to bowling alley in the 1960s; a carpet store in the 1980s; the Griffin Theatre Company in the 1990s; then a private residence and now the Brown Elephant, a resale shop supporting the Howard Brown Health Center, luckily some interior details remain, and are easily visible to the architectural fan.

Calo Theater architectual detailsI recommend stopping by if you have the chance. Start by looking at the façade, with particular attention to the pediment over the entrance with reclining female figures. Once you walk in the door, look up. There is a tiny bit of molding painted bright red. After walking into the main area of the Brown Elephant, you can see where the movie screen was on your right; it’s just a grey square on the wall but the pediment and decorative details show where it would have been. On the opposite wall is the original projection booth, currently used as an office. You may note the molding at the ceiling with female figures holding up the roof. While they’re technically not caryatids, they clearly show that classical influence. Also visible are some of the original paintings on the opposing walls, which appear to have been leaves or some other botanical feature. Unfortunately there are not currently any restoration or preservations projects currently happening in the space.

Besides the gorgeous architectural detail, the Calo is possibly best known for being the location of notorious cop-killer, Gus Amadeo’s, death in 1954. A sting had been set up to catch Amedeo who had recently escaped from the Cook County jail. However, instead of meeting his girlfriend at a local drugstore, he chose to catch a movie instead. I was unable to find out which movie he saw, but we can only hope he enjoyed it as it was the last thing he ever did. He was met with a barrage of bullets when he left the Calo, and was shot and killed by the dead officer’s partner, Frank Pape.

I was unable to find historical pictures of the inside; if you have any or recollections of how the interior looked like previously, I’d love it if you share!


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