Gateway Theater

When I was growing up around Montrose and Austin in the early 1960s, the Patio was our neighborhood movie theater. It was convenient and cheap—convenient, because it was only a few blocks away, cheap because it booked movies after every other theater had run them.

But if we wanted to see a movie fresh out of the first-run Loop theaters, we went to the Gateway.Gateway Theater-b (1979)

The Gateway was located at 5216 West Lawrence Avenue, at the eastern edge of the Milwaukee-Lawrence shopping district. I’ve never been able to find out why the owners chose this particular name, though I’ve had my suspicions.

Coming down Lawrence Avenue from the east, you passed under three railroad viaducts within a few blocks. As you emerged from the third one, boom—there was the giant, vertical “Gateway” sign on your right.  You were at the gateway to Jefferson Park.

The Gateway opened in 1930. With 1800 seats, it was bigger than the Patio.  Unlike the Patio, the Gateway had a full-fledged balcony.  It also had those twinkling lights in the darkened auditorium ceiling that were supposed to remind you of the night sky.  The snack selection was better, too.

I don’t know how many dozens of movies I saw at the Gateway in the course of 20-plus years. I do remember the Guns of Navarone in 1961.  That movie sticks in my mind because we had to wait so long to see it—Guns was such a big hit that the first-run theater downtown kept it for about three months.

Gateway Theater side

One tradition from my childhood was the cartoon fest on the Day-After-Thanksgiving (nobody called it “Black Friday” yet). With the kids off from school, and the parents needing a break after Turkey Day, the Portage Theater at Six Corners would show something like three hours of continuous cartoons.  One year the Gateway staged the program instead of the Portage.  That was also memorable because the theater had a celebrity guest—Jocko Conlan, a famed National League umpire.

The Gateway closed in 1981. Today the building and its movie auditorium are part of the Copernicus Center.


3 Responses to “Gateway Theater”

  1. 1 Andrew March 2, 2016 at 2:16 pm

    I’ve been in the theater since it became the Copernicus Center; is the theater similar to the way it was when it was the Gateway, or were there heavy renovations done to the theater? It certainly looks different on the outside now…

    • 2 J.R. Schmidt March 2, 2016 at 4:08 pm

      I haven’t been inside for many years, so I don’t know how much of the interior was renovated. Anybody out there know?

  2. 3 Marla James August 27, 2016 at 1:16 pm

    Louis Grell did the interior murals and I’m told they have been preserved/enhanced. Mr. Grell taught at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and he was my instructor in the mid-50s… a great teacher.

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