Let’s go to the Movies

The era of “modern” theater began at DeKalb in 1923 when the DeKalb Theater was built on Lincoln Highway in the Montgomery  Ward Store.  This was an up to date motion picture house with a large pipe organ.

But, the advent of “Sound” pictures heralded in the development of The Egyptian Theatre and the Fargo Theatre in 1929.  The first drive in movie theater was the DeVal Drive-In Theater on Sycamore Road in 1948.

There’s not a lot of information available for the Fargo Theatre.

It is a sister to the Fargo theater in Geneva both built by Judge Fargo. The Art Deco building over time has been used as a Theater, Roller Rink, Storage and Retail.  The second floor holds a number of apartment units and there was a $65,000 project in the 1990’s to renovate the living space.  In 2007 the Theater’s Marque sign, which was a typical design was taken down.

One of the things I love about photographing towns like DeKalb is if you are careful to avoid people and cars the result is an image you can’t really distinguish in time.  The following is the same shot as above but I think you’d be hard pressed to know it’s a current image.


The Egyptian Theater is a little easier to find information on.  Also built in 1929, the architect was Elmer F. Behrens.  The theater is of Art Deco design and is 1 of only 6 Egyptian Theaters that were built in the US.  The theater was put on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1978. It is privately owned and is still being operated.  You can check their web site for a current schedule. A more complete summary of it’s history can be found on the web site’s “About” page


The first film on the Egyptian’s giant screen was “The Hottentot,” an “all talking” film about horse racing; general admission was 50 cents for adults and 25 cents for children. The live vaudeville acts generally were reserved for weekends between movie showings.

Ownership of the Egyptian changed hands over the years, but for a majority of its commercial life, the building was owned and operated by the Thomas Valos family, who ran a chain of Midwest motion-picture houses.

DeKalb Daily Chronicle

Joseph Glidden, from Barbed Wire fame, constructed this building in 1889 as the home for the DeKalb Daily Chronicle newspaper

It is the oldest 3-story building in downtown DeKalb at one time also housed the DeKalb Public Library and the first farm bureau in the United States. It is located on Main Street (now Lincoln Highway)  E. J. Raymond and Frank Greenway purchased the DeKalb Daily Chronicle company on January 15, 1909. The newspaper’s current headquarters is at 1586 Barber Green Road DeKalb. (Taming The Wild Prairie)

 The Mural on the side of the Building is titled:”Its Merits Recommend It…” The phrase is taken from an old barbed wire fence advertisement.  It’s a town with industrious people and a history of industry. The mural project was coordinated by Olivia Gude in 1999 and the following are excerpts  from her account of the project.  Read the entire article by following the link above.

People here invented and manufactured. Two innovations that changed the history of the world–barbed wired and hybridized corn–are intimately associated with the history and growth of DeKalb.

The final mural is a mix of images and text painted on an unprimed brick wall. It was designed in this way to visually maintain the architectural solidity of the building and to create formal interactions of the text and imagery with the pattern and colors of the bricks and mortar. The mural’s themes center on loss and restoration of community through community stories and community buildings. Over fifty people worked on the collaborative design and painting of the project.

 The main feature of the mural is the portrayal of Anne Glidden. Annie Glidden, a niece of barbwire inventor Joseph Glidden, figures large in the imagination of those who know the history of DeKalb. It’s hard to say exactly why. She was evidently quite a character. Some of the elders still remember her. Many remember stories about her. She was an independent woman, an award-winning farmer, and a lifelong learner. In the mural, stories about her are interwoven with the roots of the corn.

We wanted to paint Annie as an active, confident woman in her sixties. I created her portrait from photographs of her as a young woman and as a woman in her eighties. I drew from the bodies, ears, necks, eyes, and hands of the women on the mural committee. She is quite literally an amalgam of community qualities. For me Annie represents a community rooted in character qualities such as independence, entrepreneurship, and community-mindedness.

Leaning on her hoe, gazing out at the town, Annie stands next to a towering 48- foot tall cornstalk.

The Assault Begins

I recently discovered the vast potential that DeKalb holds as a photographic treasure trove so I’ve decided to create a personal blog project to focus on this one subject.  For more about this please check the About Page.

For what it’s worth, I’m hoping this project takes on a sustained interest similar to “The Adventures of Brody” on my Profiling Light site. So the photo assault on DeKalb, Illinois begins.

DeKalb was founded in 1837.  Agriculture was the primary economic activity until 1874 when a farmer, Joseph Glidden patented a functional design for “Barbed Wire”. Glidden sold half of his interest to hardware merchant, Issac Ellwood and the Barb Fenced Company put DeKalb on the map.

As an aside, the actual first patent in the US for Barb Wire was issued in 1867 to Lucien B. Smith of Kent Ohio, who is regarded as the inventor.  But, there are hundreds of patents for Barb Wire and it’s history and development is a story of its own.  Suffice it to say, in DeKalb, Joseph Glidden, Jacob Harish and Issac L Ellwood saw an early design of barb wire at a Fair in 1873 and all 3 set about improving and capitalizing on the product.

Let’s begin the adventure with this Mural and it’s significance.

One of the features of DeKalb that first caught my eye is that there are a number of Wall Murals painted around town which contribute to the turn of the century folksy feel you get as you drive through.  The mural is part of the Illinois Lincoln Highway Coalition (ILHC) mural program.  Jay Allen, of Shaw Craft Signs, was the chosen artist for the Illinois Lincoln Highway Coalitions mural program.

The arch in the mural is significant in that it illustrates the actual arch that was built by the Chamber of Commerce in the 1920’s and stood near Carroll Avenue.   In reference to the Barb Wire Industry, the arch declared DeKalb as the Live Wire City. It was eventually destroyed.  A 1911 Stevens-Duryea Six is shown traveling under the arch with scenes along DeKalb’s Lincoln Highway in the 1920’s and 1930’s as the background. The Stevens-Duryea Six was a right-hand drive car manufactured in Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts and its presence in the mural helps to emphasize the importance of early automotive history in the United States. The vehicle and its passengers represent the many different automobiles and travelers that drove the Lincoln Highway. When the Lincoln Highway was established in 1913, towns along the route were encouraged by the Lincoln Highway Association to rename their Main Streets. DeKalb was the first city in the nation to do so. (RE:NewDekalb)

Of course the “Lincoln Highway” should be recognizable to most people.

The Lincoln Highway, affectionately known as The Main Street of America, was the first road to transverse the United States from East to West crossing through 14 states.  This highway plus the “Chicago and Northwestern” train system helped to bring prosperity to many rural Midwest towns like DeKalb.