Owner of 82-year-old Liberty Theatre in downtown Libertyville seeks demolition

  • The owner of what was built in 1937 as the Liberty Theatre in downtown Libertyville is seeking to have it demolished.

      The owner of what was built in 1937 as the Liberty Theatre in downtown Libertyville is seeking to have it demolished. Mick Zawislak | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 8/9/2019 7:05 PM

The longtime owner of what opened in 1937 as the Liberty Theatre in downtown Libertyville is seeking village permission to tear it down for green space.

The request is made "with great regret" by the Rhyan family, which has owned the local landmark at 708 N. Milwaukee Ave. for more than 50 years, according to a document filed with the village.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"We are losing our current tenant, who has been leasing for many years, and is no longer able to continue and has given notice to vacate the property as of October 31," reads a submission to the village's historic preservation commission.

The tenant isn't getting enough revenue to continue and rent has been reduced three times in recent years, the request says. The need for ongoing repairs due to the age of the building also was noted.

The theater has been known in recent years as the Liberty 1 & 2 Theaters. Operator Scott Dehn at one point invested about $130,000 to modernize it with digital equipment. He could not be reached for comment.

According to the submission, the building has been listed for sale with a commercial Realtor for the last three years. There have been two contracts, but neither potential buyer followed through, according to information provided to the village. Representatives for the family could not be reached Friday.

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A listing in 2017 advertised the 1.17-acre building and property across Milwaukee Avenue from the Metra commuter rail station for $3 million as a redevelopment opportunity.

At the time, Mayor Terry Weppler tried to get ahead of a potential sale by posting on Facebook that unless a historian or someone who cares about local history bought the property, it would be gone forever.

It opened as a single-screen movie house and has been a go-to place for generations of residents. A young Marlon Brando worked there as an usher.

"We're working hard to try to find a buyer to save the building," Weppler said Friday.

Village officials think the property is worth more to the seller with the building intact because of zoning and parking requirements that would come into play if it were a vacant parcel, he said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

What, if any, campaign might be mounted in Libertyville is unknown. Fans in 2012 raised funds for a digital projector and are looking for ways to improve business at the Catlow in Barrington, and Des Plaines this spring finalized a deal to lease and reopen and operate its downtown theater.

Because the Liberty Theatre is in a designated historic district, the demolition request must be reviewed by the historic preservation commission, which makes a recommendation to the village board for a final decision.

The commission can recommend approval, approval with conditions, denial or continue the request, said Chris Sandine, associate planner. The village has 45 days to schedule the matter for consideration.

For many years, the village had a moratorium on demolition of downtown buildings. That was lifted with the historic district designation in April 2018 and this is the first demolition request, according to Sandine.

According to the request, the property was rated as "noncontributing" in a historical preservation report.

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