Nortown Theater, c.1960
Founded in 1916 by West Siders Sam Katz and Barney and A. J. Balaban, by 1925 the Balaban & Katz chain of motion picture theaters
had constructed theaters of unprecedented size and splendor across the Chicago region, enjoyed a monopoly from Minneapolis
to St. Louis, and set the national standard for luxury and profitability. “B&K” achieved this dominance by taking advantage
of new technologies and shifts in population. Of their famous picture palaces—the Central Park (1917), Riviera (1918), Tivoli
(1921), Uptown (1925), and Chicago (1921)—all but one were located in outlying areas of the city, newly served by the “L”
and home to growing numbers of prosperous middle-class consumers. B&K attracted these patrons not with the quality of its
films but with opulent surroundings, extravagant service, full-scale musical stage productions, and the pioneering use of
air conditioning. These strategies influenced film exhibition nationwide.
In 1925 B&K merged with Famous Players–Lasky Studio to become the cornerstone of the national Publix chain. Its success lasted
until 1946, when federal action dismantled vertical integration in the film industry.