Final curtains for Liberty Theatre? No more movies at historic Libertyville theater

  • The marquee advertises parking permits instead of what's showing at the historic Liberty Theatre in downtown Libertyville, which has ceased operations. A small sign next to the entrance thanks patrons for the memories.

    The marquee advertises parking permits instead of what's showing at the historic Liberty Theatre in downtown Libertyville, which has ceased operations. A small sign next to the entrance thanks patrons for the memories. Mick Zawislak | Staff Photographer

  • The Liberty Theatre in downtown Libertyville circa 1938.

    The Liberty Theatre in downtown Libertyville circa 1938. Courtesy of the Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society

 
 
Updated 2/5/2020 6:56 PM

A long run of movie viewing at what was built in 1937 as the Liberty Theatre in downtown Libertyville has ended, with the future of the landmark uncertain.

Liberty 1 & 2 Theaters closed last week, and now its marquee advertises parking permits instead of what's showing. A decision on a pending request to demolish the old movie house has been delayed as talks of saving the building continue.

 

"There is a pending interest in the property at this time, to be used as an entertainment facility," said Thomas O'Brien, agent for Rhyan Holdings LLC, the family that has owned the building for more than 50 years. He declined to elaborate.

The theater was leased and operated for many years by Scott Dehn, who also runs the McHenry Outdoor Theater for the Rhyan family.

While there is a 2020 season scheduled for the McHenry drive-in, that was not the case in Libertyville. The business has not been financially viable, and with the Rhyan family point person wanting to retire, the property has been on the market for several years.

At one time the advertised price for the 1.17-acre property was $3 million. The most recent listing for the building was for $1.95 million.

Dehn had expected to run Liberty 1 & 2 through the end of October, but he ended operations last week. He did not respond to requests for comment.

"We're appreciative they continued to show movies this far along," said John Spoden, the village's community development director.

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Meanwhile, a Rhyan request for a demolition permit is still in progress. Because the building is in a historic district, a certificate of appropriateness from the village's advisory historic preservation commission is required.

The commission last fall voted 6-0 to recommend against the request, saying the building's importance to the community outweighed its lack of architectural significance.

The next step is for the Libertyville village board to consider the commission's report and accept, reject or modify the recommendation. That review has been delayed at the owner's request until March 10.

Libertyville resident Kyle Cashman said he has been working with investors to save the building. He said they were surprised by the abrupt closing but hold those who operated the establishment over many decades in high regard.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"We are still pursuing all avenues to try and prevent the building from being demolished and have it continue to be an entertainment destination in downtown Libertyville," he said.

Spoden said the building is included in the village's approved Transit Oriented Development plan.

"The preferred plan is to retain the building and use it as an entertainment center," he said.

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