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Top News for Boone County, Illinois
Friday, May 1, 2009

Shady Lane Theater
Charred remnants of the former Shady Lane theater remain on the site of the once-famous Marengo landmark on Thursday, April 30. The theater was a "total loss" after a fire engulfed the building late Saturday night, April 25 according to Captain John Kimmel of the Marengo Fire Department.

Kimmel said that more than 20 pieces of firefighting equipment from 13 area fire departments were deployed to extinguish the fire. It took firefighters approximately 2.5 hours to contain the fire, and firefighters were on the scene for almost five hours. There were no injuries in the fire, and no other buildings on the property sustained serious damage.

The summer stock theater for East Coast productions was built in 1941 by Chicago-area stage actor Frank Bryan to accompany a restaurant he built on the same site in 1937. The theater hosted its first production, "The Milky Way", in 1942 according to Nancy Fike, administrator of the McHenry County Historical Society. Tickets to that show cost patrons $.85.

Fike says that the restaurant and theater were famous for their fried chicken and light-hearted comedies, and the theater advertised an "all-Broadway cast". Celebrities who have appeared at the Shady Lane theater include Geraldine Page in "Tobacco Road", Jeff Chandler in "The Milky Way", comedian Jerry Stiller, and David Hasselhoff. The theater suffered from diminishing attendance in the 1980s and 1990s, and performances ceased there by the late 1990s.

The cause of the fire is undetermined, according to Kimmel.

Photo by Curtis Clegg

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