EXCHANGE: Relighting of DuPage Theatre lamps stirs memories

LOMBARD, Ill. (AP) — It was the fall of 1954 when a young Pete Kramer went to his first movie at the old DuPage Theatre in Lombard.

He can’t remember the film he saw. But Kramer was — and still is — captivated by the theater’s auditorium, built to look like a Spanish courtyard on a summer night. Projectors and lights filled the dome ceiling with drifting clouds and twinkling stars.

“It was like a faraway place that you could never get to, this dreamlike place,” Kramer recalled. “It had its own allusion.”

The dream became a nightmare when the theater was torn down in May 2007 after a lengthy campaign and legal battle to save a landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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But Kramer has preserved his childhood memories with a display he built to showcase six of the original, handcrafted lamps salvaged from the iconic movie palace. During an unveiling ceremony August 10, Kramer flipped the switch on the lights in a permanent exhibit at the Lombard Historical Society’s Carriage House behind the Victorian Cottage Museum along Maple Street.

“It’s bittersweet for me to build this,” said Kramer, who tried to spare the theater from the wrecking ball. “I would have rather have spent my time and my effort in using the lamps and helping to decorate a newly renovated theater, but it was not to be, so I’m doing the next best thing I could do.”

The lamps are one-of-a-kind works of art. Artisans soldered the amber stained glass into three-dimensional stars and other shapes for the theater that opened in July 1928.

“To my knowledge, they’re unique to the DuPage Theatre,” Kramer said.

As they enjoyed fresh popcorn, dozens of people filled the quaint carriage house Thursday to admire Kramer’s own craftsmanship. In keeping with the theater’s motif, the lights illuminate a mural Kramer painted of a castle in Segovia, Spain.

The display also features the plaque designating the National Register listing and the theater’s movie poster for “Small Town Girl,” the 1936 classic starring Robert Taylor, Janet Gaynor and James Stewart.

“There was a lot of hurt feelings when the theater was torn down,” said Sarah Richardt, executive director of Lombard Historical Society. “I know Pete takes a lot of pride in what he’s built here. I think it’s a little cathartic to make something beautiful, and it’s been nice to…

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