Daily Herald opinion: Catlow Theater sale ushers in new era, but its history should be respected

In a world of sleek movie multiplexes, Barrington's Catlow Theater was something special.

Younger visitors might not have appreciated its charm. After all, the seats weren't the cushy recliners you find in newer theaters. The bathrooms were cramped. Hot new films took longer to get there.

But film buffs didn't flock to the Catlow to see superhero flicks on their opening weekend or catch the latest rom-com in comfort. They were there to soak up the place's unique character, to enjoy a sense of community and to embrace the history of a movie house that dates back to the dawn of the talkies.

Last week, Tim O'Connor announced he had sold the Catlow, a theater he had owned for 41 years. Taking over is Brian Long, a Barrington resident and owner of Long & Co. Jewelers on Main Street. That he has strong ties to the community - and has been a champion of the Catlow - is reassuring.

"My main concern with selling the theater was that somebody would keep it as the Catlow," O'Connor told reporter Steve Zalusky last week. "We had planned on maybe putting live music in there and maybe showing movies at the same time. He seems to be on board with it. This is going to keep going for generations."

We hope he's right.

The sale follows years of financial ups and downs for O'Connor, who fought to keep the Catlow open despite expensive upgrades, money woes and the challenge of losing his late partner, Roberta Rapata.

More than once, O'Connor asked for and received the generous support of his patrons. Donations helped, but in the end, O'Connor decided the challenges ahead required someone younger - someone with the energy and resources to turn the Catlow around.

We are not sure what that will mean yet. Maybe movies, maybe music. Maybe Long will develop a new vision. But even as he weighs the changes necessary to bring the theater up to code and make it more viable, we hope he keeps the theater's look and history in mind.

Wright Catlow started building the current theater in 1926, and the striking interior features murals, detailed woodwork and gargoyle heads next to ceiling trusses,

The Catlow hosted more than movies early on: Gene Autry and fan dancer Sally Rand were among those who appeared there.

More recently, though, the theater fell on hard times. Even before the pandemic, the Catlow's future was in doubt.

New blood and new resources were clearly needed, and we wish Long the best in preserving this suburban treasure.

We look forward to celebrating its centennial in a few years, perhaps with popcorn in hand. And we hope O'Connor's dream - that the Catlow will be around for generations - gets a four-star Hollywood ending.

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