Liberty theater owner seeks demolition decision

  • The Libertyville village board next week will consider a request to demolish the Liberty Theater, built in 1937 at 708 N. Milwaukee Ave.

    The Libertyville village board next week will consider a request to demolish the Liberty Theater, built in 1937 at 708 N. Milwaukee Ave. Mick Zawislak | Staff Photographer

Posted8/6/2020 5:30 AM

The owner of the Liberty theater, a fixture in downtown Libertyville since 1937, wants a decision from village officials on a long-sought request for a demolition permit.

Rhyan Holdings LLC, a family business that has owned the building for more than 50 years, wants its request addressed at the regular village board meeting beginning at 8 p.m. Tuesday.


"I think we'll take some action," Mayor Terry Weppler said. "I just don't know what that action will be."

Residents were advised of the virtual meeting in an electronic newsletter July 31 and told public comments can be made in advance via email to or dropped off in writing at village hall, 118 W. Cook Ave.

Weppler on Wednesday said an email blast also will be sent.

"We want to let everybody know it's coming up and we have to take some action," he said.

Discussion by the village board on whether to allow the permit process to proceed had been scheduled for March 10 but was deferred at the owner's request to a to-be-determined date.

Given the expected local interest in the theater, which has been frequented by generations of residents, village officials had hoped to be able to consider the request at an in-person public meeting. But because of the coronavirus, board meetings continue to be held virtually.

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The theater at 708 N. Milwaukee Ave., across the street from the Metra commuter station, had operated in recent years as the Liberty 1 & 2 Theaters.

Despite investments in technology by the former operator and three rent cuts, business continued to decline and the theaters closed in late January. The building and 1.17-acre property is listed for $1.95 million.

The property is zoned for commercial use and has been on the market for about four years. In August 2019, Rhyan Holdings "with great regret" applied for permission to tear down the building for green space.

Because it is in a designated historic district, the village's historic preservation commission is required to review requests involving changes to buildings. The advisory group then makes a recommendation to the village board whether the requested change -- in this case demolition -- merits a required "certificate of appropriateness."


After considering the demolition request on Sept. 16 and Oct. 28, the commission unanimously recommended it be denied, saying the structure was of such historic and cultural significance that its demolition would be detrimental to the public interest.

At the first meeting, owner Jeff Rhyan said he didn't want to tear down the building if there was another option. But that was not forthcoming, and because the theater was no longer viable as a business, the building needed to be demolished, he said.

Weppler and others worked to find a buyer for the building, to no avail.

"They have property rights, but I'd also like to save the theater," Weppler said.

In February, there was said to be interest in repurposing the building as an entertainment venue, but the deal fell through.

No other proposals have been submitted to the village.

On Tuesday, the village board will decide whether to accept the historic preservation's recommendation to deny the request.

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