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Oak Park's historic Lake movie theater celebrates 75th birthday

If the Lake Theatre in Oak Park looks like the kind of place where movie fans flocked to see Humphrey Bogart, Marilyn Monroe or John Wayne on the silver screen it might be because that's exactly what it was.

The art deco theater in west suburban Chicago celebrated its 75th anniversary with a showing of "The Ghost Goes West," the first film screened when the Lake opened in 1936. In honor of it's birthday, the Lake offered free admission to the 1pm and 7pm screenings of the film on Monday.

Like many movie palaces, the Lake has changed over the years. Initially, the Thomas Lamb-designed cinema was home to one auditorium-style theater that featured seating for more than 14-hundred people.  

Downers Grove-based Classic Cinemas took over operation of the theater in 1981 and gradually updated and restored the theater, including restoring the iconic exterior sign and purchasing space for additional screens.

In addition, Classic Cinemas has added elements from other Chicago-area movie houses to the interior decor as part of an ongoing effort to preserve local cinema history. 

According to the company, the old Will Rogers Theater in Portage Park is the source of decorative ceiling fixtures that now line the rotunda. Plaster busts of two musicians were salvaged from the now-demolished Southtown Theater in Englewood.  

In 2009, the Lake underwent a complete remodeling and is now has seven movie screens and two auditoriums equipped for 3-D screenings.  

The renovation project paid homage to the past with enough touches to prompt the Chicago Art Deco Society to give it an award for historic preservation.

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