There was a time when movie theatres were grand and opulent structures. At the same time there were less opulent but very reliable neighborhood movie houses almost everywhere. And then there was a time when one after another those friendly, welcoming reliable places disappeared one after another. And so it seemed would the Wilmette Theatre, a place I relied on to see art house films without heading into the city. What a relief when it was “rescued”. And not only was it rescued but transformed. This, then is the story of how the theatre grew and developed, the theatre’s Life’s Journey.
It all started in 1913, after a long delay and not without some controversy, the Village of Wilmette issued a permit for the Wilmette Theatre. Seven months later the Theatre opened with 600 seats at a cost of $52,000.00. The local newspaper touted the new theatre as a welcomed addition to the downtown. The theatre building included a suite of offices and a candy store that is now the theatre box office.
The first movie, a Mary Pickford feature, could be seen for 10 cents. In December of 1914, Friday night became “Children’s Night at the Wilmette”. In 1928 The Metropolitan Building, which houses the theatre, was gutted, leaving the exterior intact and the inside completely renovated. After three months the theatre had a new magna screen projection system and reopened with The Melody Man starring Buster Collier, Jr. and Alice Day.
In 1931a new owner, Sam Meyers, who also owned Teatro del Lago and Glencoe Theatre purchased the Wilmette Theatre and in 1948 he had a new marquee is installed at a cost of $14,000.00!
Somewhere around 1950 the theatre was acquired by Encyclopedia Britannica Films (EBF), headquartered in the Baker Building. EBF is the largest maker of educational films in the world – many filmed in Wilmette.
A brand new era began in 1966 when Richard Stern purchased the Wilmette Theatre from EBF. Stern’s family is credited with bringing “art films” to the Chicago area, at the Cinema Movie Theatre on Michigan Avenue. Stern continued this tradition and operated the theatre for the next 40 years. On May 8, 2006 the Wilmette Theatre was rescued from the fate of being turned into a furniture store when former Broadway actor and talent agent, Sam Samuelson of Evanston and actress/acting teacher, Carole Dibo of Wilmette bought the historic Wilmette Theatre. They had a new vision for its future. A Grand Re-Opening, a village-wide event celebrated the restoration and re-opening of the Wilmette Theatre on June 24th 2006.
There have been many changes made within the theatre and include; Updating the interior and marquee, restrooms and concession area, and adding new sound-fold curtains.
The New Wilmette Theatre benefits from owners and employees with fascinating backgrounds and impressive experiences and talents. The four owners are: Sam Samuelson, his mother, Judy Samuelson, Carol Dibo and her husband, David Dibo.
Sam Samuelson is the Live Programming Producer. Aside from co-owning The Wilmette Theatre, he is an agent for Film, Television and Theatre at Stewart Talent and established Stewart Talent in New York. Earlier, Sam was an actor was appeared on Broadway, Off-Broadway, in National and International Tours and Regionally. He received the Young Alumni Award for Excellence in the Entertainment Industry from The University of Cincinnati's College Conservatory of Music. Sam has lectured and taught at Northwestern University, Carnegie-Mellon University, The Hilberry Repertory at Wayne State University, The University of Cincinnati, The University of Massachusetts's and other Universities in the Chicago area. He lives in Evanston with his lovely wife and his sweet little daughters!
Carole Dibo, the Director of The Actors Training Center, has been in “the business” for over twenty-five years. After starting her career in the Washington D.C./Baltimore market as an actress, she moved to Chicago in 1985, where she has worked extensively in the film, television and industrial film markets. Carole is the Director and Founder of the Actors Training Center at the Wilmette Theatre, a professional training ground for young actors wishing to pursue acting as a career. Carole’s years of industry experience enables her to help students bridge the gap between the industry’s needs and young actors abilities. She also teaches at Northwestern University and in Los Angeles with L.A. Casting Director, Deborah Dion. In addition, she worked as a Casting Assistant for Tenner Paskal Rudnicke Casting and Steppenwolf Theatre Co. She continues to work on camera as well as teach and coach young actors. Carole lives in Wilmette with her husband (and business partner) of 29 years, David, and has three daughters, Whitney (24), Alayna (20) and Natalie (15).
Judy Samuelson, the Daytime Program Director, started her career path as a musical theatre performer. A veteran of Northwestern University’s famed WAAMU show, her first Actor’s Equity gig was in the ensemble of the Highland Park Music Theatre, followed by a starring role in Medium Rare, the musical revue that opened MEDIUM RARE, the Marienthal Brothers popular cabaret theatre. After a 15-year hiatus in which she married and raised her 4 children, Judy transitioned into the professional world of health and fitness that included: owning THE FIRM, a popular aerobics mega-studio located in Highwood, and launching GreatAge Fitness in the 90’s, a Highland Park-based business offering exercise classes and private training workouts to prime-time women. Judy sold her exercise business to her teachers three years ago, just in time to phase in to her current role at the Wilmette Theatre. Of all her careers, Samuelson finds being a principal in the movie/live theatre business the most challenging, yet most gratifying career so far. Judy Samuelson Kaiser is married, has 4 adult married children, and 11 grandchildren
David Dibo is the Stategic Planner. He is a real-estate consultant, whose skill is credited with turning the dream of a the New Wilmette Theatre into a reality.
Others who contribute to the variety offered at the Wilmette Theatre include: Chad Byers, General Manager/Film Buyer, who has been in the theatrical exhibition industry for over thirteen years and technical consultant for the Actors Training Center; Lazar Edso, Assistant Manager/Building Maintenance Manager who was born in Baghdad attended Amundsen High School in Chicago; Clayton Stamper, Assistant Manager/Producer/Live Entertainment Coordinator, who is an artist in theater and has served as the assistant to the executive producer of the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire IL. for the past 3 years; and Nili Yellin, Director of PR and Marketing who brings a special blend of experience, talent and skill-sets makes her uniquely qualified to be the Wilmette Theatre’s first Director of Marketing/PR and is also a popular professional children’s storyteller known as The Storybook Mom (www.storybookmom.com), who performs frequently in the Chicago area.
Currently programming offers something for almost everyone. The four owners have worked hard to arrange live performances at the theatre, while continuing to show films on it’s 2 screens. There is live children’s programming on Saturday mornings, and evening cabaret shows, comedy nights, ladies night out events, senior mornings, burlesque shows, multi-media presentations and recent performances include legendary singer/guitarist Leon Redbone, singer Janis Ian and Terry Gilliam of Monty Python fame.
My husband and I regularly enjoy seeing some of the best films being shown in the Chicago area where there is no hassle and parking is easy. Recently, we attended a comedy night which was great fun. We also discovered fantastic popcocrn wine that was lovely, reasonably priced and festive. The new Wilmette Theatre is a North Shore treasure that we recomment you visit and enjoy. In addition to checking our Chicago Splash calendar, visit the website where you can find upcoming events, and see some great old photos of the Wilmette Theatre over time at: www.wilmettetheatre.com.
The Wilmette Theatre is located at 1122 Central Ave., Wilmette. The movie hotline can be reached at 847-251-7411; the theatre office is at 847-251-7424.