Oak Park’s favorite movie theater is two weeks into a renovation project that will transform it back into the 1930s.

After 12 years of wear and tear, the Lake Theatre is sprucing itself up. They’re currently tearing out old seats and putting cushy new tan leather ones in all seven auditoriums. The new seats will also have arm rests that go up and down with a built-in cup holder, says owner Willis Johnson.

Patrons will now have a little extra leg room, as all rows will be a couple of inches farther apart, increasing space from 40 to 42 inches. The Lake will lose a handful of seats with the change.

“It’s extremely comfortable with great support,” Johnson said.

The basement bathrooms, which are largely the same as they were in 1936, are being completely redone: new stalls, tile, sinks, dividers, etc. The carpet and walls will be redone in the downstairs lobby to match the original 1930s art deco appearance. The carpet features one huge circular image, that’s about 22 feet across, filled with blues, reds, and oranges, Johnson said.

Carpets over the entire theater will also be changed, while a couple of auditoriums will get new tiling. The Lake will also add new vinyl wall covering and paint.

Johnson says the Lake last made major renovations in 1996, when they made similar improvements, while also expanding and adding three new screens. Typically, theaters need to be fixed up every 10 years or so, and they just got a little behind schedule with the Lake.

“It was starting to show its age, especially the carpet, so it was time to just get freshened up,” he said.

Costs for the upgrades will stretch “well into” the six-figure range. A large portion of that will be for the 1,800 new seats, which cost $150 a pop, Johnson said.

Screens will be closed one-at-a-time during weekdays to go through the upgrades, but all should be open over the weekends for normal show times. The work is scheduled to be completed by Oct. 15.

Johnson doesn’t anticipate that the Lake will pass the renovation costs along to its customers by raising ticket or concession prices. But with increasing costs for popcorn, wages, and coconut oil, it’s possible the Lake may look at some kind of price increases in the future.

-Marty Stempniak

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