Davis Theater renovates, expands


Courtesy Ryan Lowry

General manager Ryan Lowry said the Davis Theater’s ongoing renovation is meant to revive some of the building’s original atmosphere.

By Contributing Writer

Bigger screens, new sound systems and varied food options will be part of the movie-going experience at Lincoln Square’s historic Davis Theater, 4614 N. Lincoln Ave., after ongoing renovations are completed next spring.

General Manager Ryan Lowry said two of the Davis’s four theaters were shut down Nov. 2 when  construction began.

“We will keep two theaters open during the holidays,” Lowry said. “We anticipate sometime in January the other two theaters will be shutdown completely.”

The movie house will undergo a renovation, which is a five- to six-month project, according to Lowry. 

“We are redoing all of our theaters—new seats, screens, sound systems [and] bathrooms, [and we’re] expanding our concession area,” Lowry said.

Jeff Spitz, an associate professor in the Cinema Art + Science Department, said he has attended movies at the Davis Theater since moving to Lincoln Square in 1988. 

Spitz said people talked about how “scummy” the theater was.

“[People talked about] how uncomfortable the seats are, how you run the risk of pulling your back out by going to see a movie, but it’s always been a very fun place to be,” Spitz said.

Spitz said despite its shortcomings, the Davis Theater’s old-time atmosphere made it one of a kind. Built in 1918 as the Pershing Theater, the Davis originally had only one screen and housed a Wurlitzer organ. 

“It made you feel like you were in a community, like from the ‘30s or ‘40s,” Spitz said. “It was a real old-fashioned experience to walk in there.”

Lowry said the current renovation might also include redesigned decor, reviving the atmosphere of the Davis’ vaudeville days.

“We’re hoping to bring back some of the old design of the building,” Lowry said. “It’s about a 100-year-old building. There [are] some old pipes from the organ we would like to expose.”

The renovation is scheduled to remove the wall between the Davis’ two largest theaters, creating a space for a 320-seat auditorium, he said. Lowry added that the theater will fill the vacant storefronts on its north side with a 3,000-square-foot expansion for a full bar and restaurant. 

The addition of a restaurant will make the Davis Theater’s movie-going experience more comfortable than it has been in previous years, Spitz said.

“You might even be able to get a beer or some wine,” he said. “If you compare this potential experience in the neighborhood with what I have to go downtown to find, it’s a real improvement.”

Samantha Tan, a junior cinema art + science major, said she grew up in Lincoln Square and added she has mixed feelings about the renovation project.

“I’m used to it being a small, [unique] theater. Expanding it could be good, [but that’s] not quite how the community think[s] about it,” Tan said.