The Davis is one of Chicago’s oldest theaters and the longest continually operating movie venue in the city.
Built in 1916, this historic Chicago theater first opened it’s doors as the Pershing Theater — a vaudeville style theater for live performances and silent films. By the start of the 1930s the theater was under new ownership and renamed the Davis Theater. After several alterations and many decades of neglect, a theater that had once screened early Charlie Chaplin films was now in danger of being torn down. In 1999 Tom Fencl stepped in to acquire the property and save it from demolition.
Starting in the summer of 2015, under the studio umbrella of Analogous, I had the opportunity to assemble and lead a team of designers in the redesign and renovation of this 100-year-old Chicago neighborhood treasure.
The $6 million effort included the renovation of the existing theater as well as a plan to design and build an all-new full-service bar & restaurant. This new space was to be constructed by connecting a series of store fronts along Lincoln Ave, and joining it with the adjacent theater.
The team was responsible for all aspects of creative direction on the redesign of the Davis, along with Carbon Arc; the newly added sister bar & restaurant space.
Work included: naming, branding, collateral, signage, and capital campaign materials for the project, as well as the design, direction, materials, finishes, fixtures, and build-out specifications for the interior of both spaces.
Our goal for the project was to create a modern movie-going experience while staying true to the history and iconic character of the Davis Theater and the time period in which it was originally was built.
We wanted an evening out at the 100-year-old theater, set in a charming city neighborhood, to feel like a treat… not like a second rate experience. In equal measure, it couldn’t sacrifice its character and end up feeling like an anonymous black box plucked out of a suburban mall.
We started with a 1920s Art Deco inspired direction (appropriate for the period) and layered in modern and industrial elements to create a consistent design language across the venue. The mix of elements provided us with enough range to pay homage to the style, and at the same time avoid being trapped in a stereotype of the period.