Wilmette's entertainment destination, offering top quality first run and art films and a variety of live theater, concerts, comedy, and kids' shows.

History of The Wilmette Theatre


The Year is 1913

After a long delay and not without some controversy, the Village of Wilmette issues a permit for the Wilmette Theatre. Seven months later the Theatre opens with 600 seats at a cost of $52,000.00. The local newspaper touts the new theatre as a welcomed addition to the downtown.

The theatre building includes a suite of offices and a candy store which is now the theatre box office.

Seeing the first movie, a Mary Pickford feature, costs a mere 10 cents. Even in 1914, owners of the Wilmette Theatre know the young audience is a most important customer. Beginning in December of that same year, Friday nights become “Children’s Night at the Wilmette”. A building that still exists around the corner on Wilmette Avenue, The Baker Building, also opens a movie theatre in 1914 called The Village Theatre. But, unlike its cousin on Central Avenue, this other local movie house will not survive.

Just before the Great Depression in 1928, plans are announced to gut and modernize the Metropolitan Building (a name still visible on the exterior of the building). This takes three months and while the exterior remains intact, the inside is completely renovated. The theatre boasts a new magna screen projection system and opens with “The Melody Man” starring Buster Collier, Jr. and Alice Day.

In 1931, the theatre changes owners. Sam Meyers, owner of Teatro del Lago and Glencoe Theatre buys the Wilmette Theatre – the Teatro del Lago Theatre is housed in what is now the Plaza del Lago. In 1948 a new marquee is installed at a cost of $14,000.00!

Somewhere around 1950 the theatre is acquired by Encyclopedia Britannica Films (EBF), headquartered in the Baker Building. EBF is the largest maker of educational films in the world – many filmed right here in Wilmette.

A brand new era

In 1966 Richard Stern purchases the Wilmette Theatre from EBF. Stern’s family is credited with bringing “art films” to the Chicago area, at the Cinema Movie Theatre on Michigan Avenue. Stern continues this tradition and operates the theatre for the next 40 years. May 8, 2006, sees a brand new era for the Wilmette Theatre as two local families buy the historic Wilmette Theatre, saving it from being turned into a furniture store. A Grand Re-Opening on June 24th 2006 is a village-wide event that celebrates the restoration and re-opening of the Wilmette Theatre.


In the short time since the Wilmette opened in the spring of 2006, we accomplished:

  • Interior was painted and original crown molding was restored
  • Restrooms were upgraded, painted and cleaned
  • New sound fold curtains added
  • Concession area upgrades
  • Updated marquee

"The renaissance of the Wilmette Theatre is not only drawing movie stars and first run productions to the historic playhouse. It is also -- dare it be said? -- turning Wilmette's once sleepy downtown into a marquee North Shore attraction." -- North Shore Magazine November 2008