Lit no more: what happened to Cascade?

The+sign+at+Cascades+entrance+used+to+display+that+weeks+double-features.

Photo by Dhanveer Gill

The sign at Cascade’s entrance used to display that week’s double-features.

By Max Avila, Reporter

Gates closed as Cascade streamed its last movie at the intersection of Prince Crossing and North Avenue in West Chicago in 2018, leaving behind years of legacy.

Cascade, a drive-in theater, opened on August 4, 1961. Helmed by Jeff Kolhberg, the location operated for 57 years before shutting its doors in the fall of 2018

In the years prior to its closure, the theater was in the headlines often due to an argument between Cascade and Scooby’s Hot Dogs, a restaurant located just northwest of the theater. The conflict sparked a boycott against Scooby’s, which moved into the location in 1985. The restaurant, theatergoers claimed, had too many lights, affecting the overall experience for movie watching. 

I just think it’s really rude,” a Cascade patron, Linda France, said in 2018 to CBS News

Although Cascade was highly affected by Scooby’s location, the argument between the drive-in and the restaurant was not the reason it shut its doors. It was the landowner who did not allow Kolhberg, Cascade’s owner, to keep the theater open: no reason was given as to why.

“We are sorry to announce to all of you that sadly the Cascade Drive-In theater will not open for 2019 season and beyond,” the theater’s Facebook page read on March 15, 2019.

Several sales were subsequently held to clear some of the theater’s equipment, including two “fairly new” rainbow playsets, according to a subsequent post.

In the years following the shutdown of theater, rumors circulated suggesting a supposed reopening. According to the Cascade Drive-In Facebook page, an application was filed in October 2020 with the City of West Chicago to reopen the theater.

In 2021, the Daily Herald reported that both the owners and the city wanted to resume operations. In Mayor Ruben Pineda’s May 2022 State of the City address, he stated that efforts were, in fact, underway to reopen the drive-in.

“I would like to highlight the issuance of building permits for the lift station at the Cascade Drive-In Movie Theatre that will eventually bring the renewal and return of this favorite community attraction,” Pineda wrote.

Talk of the theater, fueled by the death of the landowner, who passed away in 2022, continued throughout last year.

“We are not aware of any plans to reopen the Cascade Drive In. A few years ago there was talk of doing so but nothing came of it,” City of West Chicago Director of Community Development, Tom Dabareiner, said via email.

Meanwhile, the theater remains abandoned. Graffiti lines the concession stand, and grass has all but covered the picnic tables. A lot of work would need to occur for Cascade to begin showing movies again.