Daily Herald opinion: Barrington's Catlow Theater a suburban treasure well worth preserving

This editorial is the consensus opinon of the Daily Herald Editorial Board

In an email to supporters Friday, Catlow Theater owner Tim O'Connor shared that he was in talks with prospective buyers for his historic venue.

The admission follows years of financial ups and downs at the Barrington landmark. O'Connor, who has been with the theater since the '80s, has chronicled those struggles as he sought support for keeping the Catlow open.

“I feel now that I am at that age where it might be impossible for me to carry on with the plans that we had for operating the theater — it may be time to pass the baton on to someone younger with more energy, resources and ambitious goals toward keeping the Catlow as a vital entertainment venue for our community,” he wrote.

He said those who have expressed interest in the building pledge to keep the Catlow a theater. That's “a must,” O'Connor insists in the email. And for that, we are grateful.

The Catlow — correctly billed as being in the “heart” of Barrington's downtown — dates back nearly a century, and has a place on the National Register of Historic Places.

Wright Catlow started building the current theater on West Main Street in 1926. The striking interior features murals, detailed woodwork and gargoyle heads next to ceiling trusses — details that would delight film buffs well into the age of the cookie-cutter movie multiplex.

In its early years, the Catlow hosted more than movies. A young Gene Autry and fan dancer Sally Rand were among those who graced its stage.

O'Connor and Roberta Rapata were part of a group of investors that bought the theater in 1988. O'Connor's heart has always seemed to be in the right place regarding his dreams and ambitions for the Catlow. But he faced a number of challenges as movie technology changed, Rapata died and he went public with a series of financial setbacks.

It became clear — even before the pandemic temporarily shuttered theaters — that saving the Catlow might be out of his reach.

Yet, losing the theater would be a blow to Barrington and the entire suburban arts community. Movie houses like the Catlow are increasingly rare; seeing a film there was something special.

That's why we wish O'Connor the best of luck in finding the right buyer should he choose to sell — someone who shares his sense of the community, who understands the entertainment industry and who respects the Catlow's unique legacy. And we hope village officials do what they can to make that happen.

The Catlow is a suburban treasure, one we hope to enjoy on its 100th birthday and beyond.

Paul Valade/pvalade@dailyherald.comThe Catlow theater in downtown Barrington.
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