Committee on Environment, Geography and Urbanization

Division of Social Sciences, The University of Chicago

Issue 6 | Winter 2024

portrait of Stella Bennett

The Daily Maroon. Wednesday, February 15, (1922). Courtesy of the University of Chicago Library

Every Saturday afternoon at the Frolic Theater, hundreds of children would settle into their leather seats as the opening reels of that week’s matinee selection played on the movie screen. Located at 55th Street and Ellis (the current location of Stagg Field), the Frolic Moving Picture Theater once hosted a weekly “Kiddies Matinee,” where Hyde Park’s youngest moviegoers could catch the latest Charlie Chaplin film or comedy feature, set to live music provided by the Frolic’s house orchestra.1 The theater was a member of the thirteen-house Ascher Brothers Chicago Circuit, “one of the largest, most modern and costly chain of moving picture theaters in America,” according to a 1917 edition of The Moving Picture World.2 

Distinguished by its backwards floor plan—patrons faced the audience, not the screen, as they entered the theater—the one thousand seat Frolic featured a grand lobby decorated with Italian vein marble and mosaic work.3 Throughout its nearly fifty-year existence, the theater frequently served as a venue for community events, ranging from a Ray Elementary School PTA benefit to a model submarine contest and a local synagogue’s “Yiddish Theater Night.”4 The Frolic was also a popular destination for University of Chicago students, garnering regular advertisements in the Daily Maroon through the 1950s.5

One former University Avenue resident remembers visiting the Frolic while he was growing up in the 1940s and ‘50s. “Many of us experienced our first movies there as children,” David Wylie wrote in a 2005 Hyde Park Herald article. “Admission for children was 20 cents, while popcorn was 10 cents—or, if buttered, 25 cents.”6

In a 2009 blog post, then-UChicago undergraduate Luke Fiedler (`10) reflected on Hyde Park’s changing landscape and the neighborhood’s stories that often go unrecognized by younger residents. “Who knew that the intersection where Ratner Athletics Center now stands used to be the site of the Frolic Theater?” he wrote.7


  1. Barrett, “Give the Children a Good Time,” 1111.
  2. “The Ascher Bros.’ Chicago Circuit,” 1572.
  3. “The Ascher Bros.’ Chicago Circuit,” 1572.
  4. “Ray School Gives Movie Benefit Soon,” 3; “‘Underwater Corrigan’ Will Mix with Subs Again—Models,” 4; Tipper, “Yiddish Theater,” 31.
  5. “The Ascher Bros.’ Chicago Circuit,” 1572.
  6. Wylie, “Trollies, Theaters, Buggies: Recalling 55th Street,” 6.
  7. Fiedler, “A Hyde Park Time Capsule.”


Barrett, B.F. “Give the Children a Good Time.” Motography 16, no. 15 (November 1916): 1111–12. Google Books.

Fiedler, Luke. “A Hyde Park Time Capsule.” University of Chicago Magazine, August 6, 2009. http://uchiblogo.uchicago.edu/archives/2009/08/a_hyde_park_tim.html.

“Ray School Gives Movie Benefit Soon.” Hyde Park Herald, May 25, 1939. NewsBank.

“The Ascher Bros.’ Chicago Circuit.” The Moving Picture World 31 (January–March 1917): 1572–74. Google Books.

Tipper, A. Ovrum. “Yiddish Theater.” The Sentinel, May 17, 1951. The National Library of Israel.

“‘Underwater Corrigan’ Will Mix with Subs Again—Models.” Hyde Park Herald, January 26, 1939. NewsBank

Wylie, David. “Trollies, Theaters, Buggies: Recalling 55th Street.” Hyde Park Herald, May 11, 2005. NewsBank.