The Genesee Theatre’s restoration has stimulated a steady stream of rejuvenation in downtown Waukegan on Lake Michigan’s north shore. Back in the day, native son Jack Benny broadcast his NBC show from the thriving 1927 movie palace; one of Benny’s framed scripts hangs in the lobby in tribute.
The theater fell into disrepair during the 1980s after a downturn in the local economy. In 2004, local citizens banded together to save the Genesee from the wrecking ball by raising $24 million to restore it. Original classic terra-cotta brick exterior, carrara marble banisters, brass carvings, side lobby, and much of the ornate Spanish Renaissance-style plaster ceilings and walls have been lovingly maintained. All remaining features were either re-created or acquired from other theaters across the country. The wall treatments, stenciling and carpet designs derive from historic photographs, and a balcony was added to make this a 2,416-seat showhouse.
An on-site mini museum displays blueprints, film canisters, a ticket dispenser and the original Barton Grand pipe organ. These days, the Genesee Theater’s rainbow marquee lights up regularly with the names of headlining musical acts, films and performances. Tours of the property are available by appointment only.