If Barrington’s historic Catlow Theater has lapsed into hibernation, it is poised to rise from its slumber in a big way, if Brian Long and his family have their way.
Standing in the lobby of the nearly century-old cinema recently, Long is the very picture of a proud new owner.
He and his wife, Julianne, bought the theater Oct. 20 from longtime owner Tim O’Connor. They’re enchanted by the 1927-vintage movie house’s history and are brimming with enthusiasm about its possibilities.
“Most people have never seen the real Catlow,” said Brian Long, who also owns Long & Co. Jewelers a short walk away in downtown Barrington. “So our goal is to bring it back to the original, which will actually improve it, and people will have a new experience here.”
Opened in 1927, the Catlow Theater in downtown Barrington has faced some lean times in recent years. But new owners hope to revive the historic movie house as a multipurpose venue. – John Starks | Staff Photographer
Long harbors a special interest in the theater’s architect, Alfonso Iannelli. His work can be seen not only in the building itself but in the sculptures inside.
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“We liked the architecture long before we ever knew we would own it,” said Long, who received a bachelor of fine arts degree from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. “I studied Frank Lloyd Wright and the history of Prairie School. Iannelli studied under Frank Lloyd Wright.”
He also is wrapped up in the joy of archaeological discovery, unearthing historical treasures throughout, such as original owner Wright Catlow’s checkbook with the First State Bank of Barrington. One check, dating to 1932, is for $1.75 to the Deep Rock Oil Co.
Hidden behind a curtain that he estimates has been in place since the 1950s, Long said he discovered “the most beautiful arch you’ve ever seen.”
Elsewhere hangs a poster for “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” one of the most popular movies to appear on the Catlow’s screen, signed by its star, Nia Vardalos. A colorful sign with an anthropomorphic popcorn box, soft drink cup and hot dog urges patrons, “Let’s Go to The Lobby.”
Other locations are a rabbit hole of nostalgia. Walls near the dressing room are scrawled with inscriptions from days gone by, including the signature of “Salty” Holmes, a performer on WLS radio’s “National Barn Dance” in the 1940s.
Upstairs in the old projection booth is a poster for “The African Queen” and a Yul Brynner film called “Catlow.” There’s also a hot plate and a sign bearing the legend “RAY H. JAHNKE PROJECTIONIST LOCAL … 483 ELGIN. ILL.” Jahnke began working at the Catlow when it opened and was still there into the 1990s.
Old signs, including one advertising a 30-cent matinee, are among the pieces of nostalgia the new owners of the Catlow Theater in downtown Barrington have discovered in recent weeks. – John Starks | Staff Photographer
Long said his goal is to make the Catlow a multipurpose venue, available for live entertainment, weddings, parties and other events. Movie showings also could be in the mix.
He intends not only to preserve the theater’s history but also restore elements, like niches along the walls flanking the movie screen, to their original splendor.
“As soon as we can, we’re going to get the guys up there to fill in the plaster and paint again,” Long said.
The rehab is likely to involve a substantial investment of money — well over six figures — and time. The hope is to have it ready for a grand reopening within two years.
Long’s family, which includes daughter Jocelyn and son Brenton, both college students, have strong connections to the area.
Brian grew up in Algonquin and attended Jacobs High School, while high school sweetheart Julianne was raised in Sleepy Hollow and attended Dundee-Crown.
Brenton may be most familiar with the Catlow. His first job was at the theater doing all kinds of things, like selling concessions, taking tickets and turning on the projector.
“So it’s kind of cool that now the family owns this building,” he said.
In the weeks since the sale was announced, the Barrington community has rallied around the Longs and their plans to revive the theater.
“They know that it ended up in the hands of someone who appreciates not only what an architectural gem it is but what a gem it is to their hearts, to the town,” Julianne Long said.