Barrington wants Catlow to stay open, but village help is limited
Barrington officials say while they want the Catlow Theater to remain in business, the village is limited in how much it can help the privately owned downtown icon.
After initially announcing last weekend that the national landmark would be closed "until further notice," owner Tim O'Connor reversed course in an email to customers Monday and wrote that movies will resume Friday. "Little Women" will play at the single-screen movie house, with showings at 5:10 and 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 7 p.m. Sunday through Thursday.
O'Connor has been seeking online donations to keep the Catlow afloat.
Despite the Catlow's uncertainty, planning continues for the Barrington Cultural Commission-sponsored "Oscar Shorts" Film Festival at the theater, scheduled for Feb. 8 and 9. The village commission also is behind the annual Barrington Independent Short Film Festival set for the Catlow in May.
"Obviously, the Catlow is very important to the village and the community," said Patty Dowd Schmitz, Barrington's director of communications, marketing and events, "It's an institution that's been around almost a hundred years and it's a part of Barrington. And so, our goal is to see it succeed. We want to help in any way we can help, but in the end it is a private business."
When it opened in 1927, the Catlow featured silent films and hosted vaudeville performances with stars such as Gene Autry and Sally Rand. It has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1989.
O'Connor has said the Catlow is falling into disrepair and that there has been a lack of interest in movies at the Tudor Revival-style theater on Main Street.
Jack Schaefer, a cultural commission member who's organizing the two film events, said the village can't provide financial assistance to the Catlow. However, he said the 12-member volunteer commission has tried to help by offering ideas and creating events such as the film festivals.
Last year, the commission floated the concept of the Catlow's hosting a "Sound of Music" singalong similar to what's been done at Chicago's Music Box Theatre for several years around Thanksgiving.
Schaefer said O'Connor's idea of turning the Catlow into a live-stage venue also can work.
"If he gets a stage set up and some lighting, he really has the opportunity (to succeed) because of the location and the size of the theater and the comfortable seating and the fact he has a liquor license," Schaefer said after Wednesday's cultural commission meeting.
Village Trustee Emily Young said she's concerned about the Catlow's future and hopes the community gets behind the theater. She doesn't envision the village board will become involved in the matter.
"Tim is still working hard to get people to come out," Young said of the Catlow owner.
Ideas such as financial assistance from the village and the establishment of a private, nonprofit entity that would buy and run the Catlow as a community arts center were floated in 2001, after the theater started having financial problems under the ownership of O'Connor and the late Roberta Rapata.
Catlow Theater LP filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in U.S. District Court in Chicago on Oct. 8, records show.