Biograph Theater

Biograph Theater
2433 N. Lincoln Avenue
1934 / 2012          

The Biograph Theater was built in 1914. It was designed by architect Samuel N. Crowen and looked like many of the old movie houses of that era. It had a freestanding ticket booth, recessed entryway and a lobby extending the width of the building.  The brightly lit marquee out front was a signature feature! What makes this location so noteworthy today is that it is where the infamous bank robber, John Dillinger, was ambushed and killed by FBI agents.  The feature that night was the gangster movie “Manhattan Melodrama” starring Clark Gable and William Powell.

John Dillinger

On the evening of July 22, 1934 federal officers were tipped off by brothel madam Anna Sage (Cumpanas), a female companion to Dillinger who later became known as “The Woman in Red”.  She tipped off the feds as a condition that they in turn would help her with her deportation “problems” and not be sent back to her native Romania. Dillinger was supposedly shot five times by Melvin Purvis and other agents, as he was exiting the theater and trying to escape down a nearby alley.

Stakeout of Biograph

In July, 2004 Chicago’s Victory Garden Theater announced it had purchased the Biograph Theater and wanted to use it for live theater.  They spent over $11 million to renovate the building, and in the fall of 2006 reopened to Charles Smith’s drama, Denmark.

In 2008 the outside decor of the Biograph, and the adjoining businesses, were all re-done to look as they did back in 1934 for the 2009 Hollywood movie “Public Enemies” starring Johnny Depp and Christian Bale.

Some aspects of Dillinger’s death have never been fully explained, however.  Conspiracy theorists abound, if you have an interest in this subject go check out some of the local folklore.  For example…it’s odd that the feds never made a real attempt to apprehend Dillinger before shooting him down in a crowded street…the story is that he reached for a gun, but the weapon supposedly taken from the body wasn’t manufactured until ten years after his death. Also, he was famously left handed, but attempted to pull a gun from his right back pocket?  He also sat in the cinema for over two hours…sitting on a gun?  These, and many other inconsistencies, have shadowed this story for decades.

Colt .38


On the side….

Things didn’t work out so well for Anna Cumpanas…..she was eventually deported back to Romania.

Today, North Lincoln Avenue is still a lively place to visit with many stores, boutique shops, restaurants and bars.  Some even memorialize days past.



2 thoughts on “Biograph Theater

  1. Barney

    Love the concept. When I hovered over some of the pictures, they did not make the transition, so I don’t know if it’s my computer or if the software on some of the images is stuck. Regardless, very cool idea and one I bet you could get “funding” for from a city arts commission or the Historical Society. Would like to see more. Would even be fun researching the old buildings for more information. Let me know if you accept volunteers. 🙂


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