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Classic Cinemas Chain Honored With Statewide Preservation Award

photographer Tom Tibia

photographer Tom Tibia

The Classic Cinemas chain of movie theatres and its owners, Willis Johnson with his wife Shirley and son Chris were recently recognized with the “Stewardship Award,” presented by Landmarks Illinois as part of the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Preservation Awards. This 17th-annual event honors individuals, organizations and projects throughout the state that represent excellence in historic preservation.

“The work of the Johnsons in restoring their historic theatres are a testament to the deep commitment of preservationists across the state,” said Jim Peters, president of Landmarks Illinois.

The Classic Cinemas chain of theatres began in 1976 when Willis and Shirley Johnson purchased the then-deteriorating Tivoli Theatre in Downers Grove (1928). Since that time the Johnsons have been joined by their son Chris in purchasing and restoring six of their theatres located in the suburbs of Chicago and Northern Illinois. Among their theatres are the Lindo in Freeport (1921), the Lake in Oak Park (1936), the Paramount in Kankakee (1931), as well as the York in Elmhurst (1924). The York Theatre is also home to the Theatre Historical Society of America.

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