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River Oaks Theaters time capsule turned up all wet
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River Oaks Theaters time capsule turned up all wet


The demolition of the River Oaks Theaters in Calumet City, a landmark multiplex where many Region residents first saw cinema classics like "Star Wars," "Godfather," and "Silence of the Lambs," has left many wondering what happened to a time capsule that was buried there when it opened in 1969.

Region resident John Doherty showed up for the first film ever shown at the theater, when the theater placed a time capsule in a 3-by-3 foot lined-off section of the front concrete pavement by the original box office.

"It created quite the buzz when it opened," he said.

The time capsule was supposed to be opened in 2019, on the 50th anniversary of the theater.

The movie house, which originally opened as the one-screen River Oaks Dimension 150 Theatre with 1,600 rocking-chair seats, a large curved screen, auditorium lights and a giant curtain that opened in the middle, never made it to the golden anniversary, closing in 2006 as a result of the merger between Loew's and AMC, after showing the Queen Latifah vehicle "Last Holiday" as its final film.

Then-Loews River Oaks Theater 9-10 Managing Director Jim Leparski retrieved the time capsule on the theater's last day of operation in 2006, 13 years before it was supposed to be pulled out, but it also proved to be a bust. The capsule contained mostly paper items, such as letters written by Thornton Fractional South honor students, that were turned into a soggy mess because the capsule was waterlogged, according to The Times of Northwest Indiana archives.

Little was legible other than an old Bank of River Oaks brochure advertising safe-deposit boxes for $4 a year, a Hammond Times ad for a 12-pack of Miller beer for $2.29, and a letter from then-Calumet City Chamber of Commerce President Donald Hixon that "predicted that the then new River Oaks Shopping Center would bring great changes to Calumet City, as the city was transformed from light industry to a retail center."

Though still home to a busy trade area, Calumet City has suffered many retail losses in recent years such as Carson Pirie Scott, Sears and Target.

River Oaks Theaters, which was once a regional destination because of its stereo sound and 70mm projectors, was to be torn down shortly after the closing in 2006, but that didn't happen the way it was supposed to either.

The movie theater where generations of Region residents saw films like "Saturday Night Fever," "Grease" and "Titantic," rotted empty for more than a decade until new owner, Namdar Realty Group/Mason Asset Management, bought the River Oaks Center mall for $26.3 million last year.

After discussions with the city, the new owner decided to raze the River Oaks Theater, which was deemed "no longer viable."

Calumet City Economic Development Coordinator Pete Saunders said it wasn't yet clear what would come next there.


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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.

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