During 1928, the Lawndale frequently promoted British silents whose unheralded leading men had names like Percy Marmot. Vaudeville performances were supplemented by boxing on Tuesday and Wednesday nights and “Chorus Girl Contests” on Fridays.
The Lawndale opened on October 19, 1927. Beneath twinkling star lights painted on the ceiling to resemble the night sky, theatergoers sat in the 2,200 seat theater (quite large for a neighborhood movie-house) for the virgin showing of A Girl From Rio. The next years saw many British silent films, vaudeville performances, boxing nights on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and “Chorus Girl Contests” on Fridays. In the summers, the theater closed.
In the mid-1930s, ownership changed hands to the mob. Frank “The Enforcer” Nitti, a cohort of Al Capone, purchased the theater through his company. The Lawndale continued to be used a theater, occasionally rented out for various functions.
World War II brought about a rapid demographic shift for the neighborhood, rendering it homogeneously African-American. The Lawndale went through several owners at this time, finally reopening as the Rena Theatre in late 1949. It showed second-run triple features during the week and music revues on the weekends.
In 1961 legend holds that a gang leader was shot dead in the main staircase. The Lawndale closed. In 1964 it reopened as a church, and remained as such for 40 years, until its closure in the early 2000s.
Today it sits abandoned on Roosevelt Road, once majestic in splendor, now majestic in decay.
Update: As of the summer of 2014 demolition has begun.
Update: As of summer of 2017 the building has been demolished.