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Can Silent Horror Film Series Save Rogers Park’s Struggling New 400 Theaters?

Classic silent films "Nosferatu" and "Phantom Of The Opera" will be screened and accompanied by live organ — just like the New 400 Theaters would have presented the movies in the 1920s.

The New 400 Theaters, 6746 N. Sheridan Rd.
Joe Ward/Block Club Chicago
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ROGERS PARK — Two silent films that may have originally played at the New 400 Theaters are coming back to the Rogers Park movie palace, which is at risk of permanently closing.

The Silent Film Society of Chicago is hosting screenings of “Nosferatu” and “The Phantom Of The Opera” the next two Mondays at the New 400 Theaters, 6746 N. Sheridan Road.

The films will be scored to live organ music — just like they would have been presented at the New 400 about 100 years ago, said Jay Warren, organist and co-founder of the Silent Film Society.

As the oldest continually running movie theater in Chicago, the New 400 likely screened the first run of horror classics “Nosferatu” (released in 1922) and “The Phantom of the Opera” (1925), Warren said.

Opened in 1912, the New 400 successfully closed early in the pandemic, had to pivot its business and returned to movie screenings in June 2021. But business has not been the same, and its owner said he will likely have to close it even as fans rally to keep it alive.

Now, count Silent Film Society as one of the groups looking to save the classic movie house.

“It’s important to have these,” Warren said of Chicago’s last-remaining movie palaces. “Once they’re gone, they’re gone.”

“Nosferatu” will be screened 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Monday, while “The Phantom Of The Opera” will be screened 7:30 p.m. April 10. Silent-era cartoons will be screened before the films.

Tickets are $12 in advance or $15 at the door. Advance tickets can be bought at the New 400, at City Newsstand, 4018 N. Cicero Ave., or at the Silent Film Society’s website.

The majority of the ticket proceeds will go to the New 400, Warren said.

Credit: Joe Ward/Block Club Chicago
The New 400 Theaters’ marquee as seen on March 8, 2023.

The New 400 Theaters was in operation for over 100 years when it was forced to close its doors during the pandemic.

The business pivoted to stay afloat. That includes operating as a takeout concession business with patio service, a theater rental business and even a coronavirus testing center.

But moviegoers have not returned to the theater in droves. With even national movie theater chains struggling to adapt, the writing is on the wall for neighborhood theaters like the New 400, owner Tony Fox said.

Fox is looking to find a tenant for the movie theater and eventually sell the building it inhabits, he said. The theater will remain open while those efforts are underway.

RELATED: Rogers Park’s New 400 Theaters Could Close After 100 Years As Fans Make Last-Ditch Effort To Save It

In response, neighbors have stepped up to help save the New 400. That includes a New 400 Street Team, a group dedicated to keeping the theater in business. A website has been formed that includes a page on how to help the business.

The Silent Film Society was approached by a supporter about organizing an event at the New 400, Warren said.

The group settled on the horror film screenings. They are being held on Mondays, when the New 400 is typically closed, helping to provide a revenue stream for the theater.

Warren will provide live scores to the silent films using a keyboard that samples note-for-note the sounds of a 1920s Wurlitzer organ. Most silent films were presented along with a live organist scoring the action on screen, Warren said.

The event is mutually beneficial to the New 400 and the Silent Film Society, which looks to preserve the history of Hollywood’s early days and art form. Screening the films in theaters as old as the movies being shown is an added bonus to the society’s efforts, Warren said.

“We’re kind of like a stepping stone to the past,” Warren said. “If you went to the movies in the 19-teens or ’20s, this is what you’d see and hear.”

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