I drive along Lake Shore Drive every day, and just about every day I tell myself that I need to go to Theater on the Lake at Fullerton and the Drive. I’d heard something about how it was an insane assylum that became a theater, and, since that’s very strange, I decided to investigate:
The building is almost 100 years old, and it wasn’t a theater until 1952. Jack Higgins, the Chicago Park District’s drama supervisor, decided to use the space to showcase the Park District’s many community theater organizations.
So, what was the building’s purpose before it was a theater? How about a sanitarium! The Chicago Daily News editor and publisher, Victor Lawson, had the building designed and constructed as a place for babies suffering from tuberculosis and other diseases to recuperate.
The building also offered free health services, milk and lunches to more than 30,000 children each summer until it closed in 1939.
After the sanitarium closed the building re-opened as a USO Center for soldiers from Fort Sheridan and sailors from the Great Lakes Navel Station during World War II. When the war ended, the Park District used the space for bar dances.
The Park District began its theater program in 1952, and in 1996, it refocused and started inviting professional theater companies to show their best works. Today, the theater features eight playes in eight weeks during the summer. Unfortunately, you and I have missed this summer’s run, but there’s always next summer!
Filed under: Did You Know, Chicago?
Tags: Chicago, Chicago Daily News, Chicago Fort Sheridan, Chicago Great Lakes, Chicago history, Chicago Lake Shore, Chicago Lake Theater, Chicago Navy, Chicago Park District, Chicago Quirk, Chicago Theater, Chicago Theater on the Lake, Fort Sheridan, Great Lakes Navel Station, Jack Higgins, Jack Higgins Chicago, Lake Shore Drive, Theater on the Lake, Victor Lawson