It started off as a typical Saturday night. Neighbors Valerie Zimmer and Nate Conley went out to see a movie at a local Rogers Park cinema.
After walking a few blocks to Village North Theatre, located at 6746 N. Sheridan Road, the moviegoers noticed something odd.
The large sign below the marquee that once listed movies was empty. Men on ladders were taking signs down from the building's exterior. Newspapers covered the windows and posters on the doors stated, "Theater Closed For Good."
Zimmer says the closing surprised her.
"I had heard the theater was under new management and may have some remodeling done to it," Zimmer says. "But 'theater closed for good' does not sound like remodeling."
Village Entertainment, which leased the building and operated the theater, involuntarily dissolved this past September. A new corporation, Visionary Theatres, immediately took over but less than four months later it ceased operations.
Tony Fox, president of ADF Capital and owner of the property, says his business will take over. He plans to re-open a new theater in the spring after extensive renovations and landscaping.
Formerly known as The 400 in its heyday, Village North Theatre became notorious for its lackluster amenities, including poor sound quality, unsanitary bathrooms, and garbage-strewn viewing rooms.
Some patrons gave it the nickname "ghettoplex."
Still, the little movie house had its fans.
"It is sad to see it go, even if it wasn't run well," says Brian Wolf, 22. "It was an important amenity for the neighborhood and one of the only things that has stuck around so long."
"The Village North Theatre was an asset to the community and provided cinema, culture and commerce to a part of Sheridan Road that really needed it," says Bill Morton, 31. "It was a part of our lives for a very long time, and the students, neighbors and Rogers Park community will miss it dearly."
April Braden, a former Loyola University Chicago student, says the theater had major flaws, like frequent outbreaks of fighting and sticky floors and seats, but it had charm, too.
"I enjoyed the fact that even though it was run down and old, it was what a theater was supposed to be: a place for the community to come together and enjoy a popular form of entertainment without any sort of corporate strings attached," says Braden, 23.
The local theater has to overcome a mound of legal problems.
Fox, an Evanston-based developer, purchased the building complex for $3.25 million in October 2007. He applied last year for $200,000 in funding from the Devon-Sheridan TIF to restore the building's terra cotta façade. He estimates the total project will cost between $500,000 and $600,000.
Alderman Joe Moore, D-29, says it's apparent the theater is not in great shape. He supports Fox's efforts in "restoring the façade of that lovely building."
Moore hosted a meeting with Fox and residents last June to discuss plans for restoration with tax increment financing. At that same meeting Moore announced that Fox was evicting the theater operator at the time, Ron Rooding of Village Entertainment, for his refusal to pay rent.
While many are excited about the desire and work to save and improve the theater, others have developed a wait-and-see attitude.
"The trend of developers in Rogers Park seems to be focused on demolishing beautiful nearly century-old buildings," says Morton, who has lived in Rogers Park for the past 10 years. "This has been the case with the Adelphi Theater, the North Shore School, and the Lerner Building."
Judy Tsui, 22, thinks concerns of gentrification might surface with this project.
"I just wonder whether the renovations will bring in a slew of other changes that might not be positive," Tsui says. "I know that gentrification is a huge issue in Rogers Park, and I wonder whether ticket prices will go up, thereby alienating the people who used to be the most steady customers."
Rooding could not be reached for comment for this story.