National Pastime Theater

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Apparently, the friendly helpful party animals of the past still enjoy good times!



I never stop marveling at the creativeness and ingenuity of the human spirit. The period of Prohibition, the banning of alcohol, inspired some innovative moves to foil the nosy authorities and allow people to party, enjoying the banned liquid refreshment.

This horseshoe-shaped building which hides this ballroom turned speak-easy turned theater, was built in 1929, known as the Buena Park Hotel, probably providing a market for underworld figures who ran a black-market booze business. It is thought that its patrons were from the working-class, looking for a place to dance and enjoy themselves, momentarily forgetting life’s woes, while sticking it to officious nanny laws which stomp on personal freedom; the freedom to indulge in the bubbly!

Imagine a building with regular, run of the mill business storefronts. One of these storefronts has a hidden, huge disguised back room created for party festivities featuring, “a marble-floored ballroom, terra cotta moldings, a four-foot marble clock placed over the bar area and even ornate drinking fountains mounted into the walls.” Needless to say, many a good time was experienced here, through dancing, drinking and by partying hardy!

Ten escape routes from the inevitable police raids were also provided, through hidden doors. Larry Bryan explains in an article by Anne Keegan, Tribune Staff Writer, found on the theater’s website:

“You could escape into three different storefronts, into the alley, down into the basement and then up the steps into an apartment building. And from the balcony, which is now our control booth, you could quietly ease into a hallway and head toward an elevator in the same building as if you’d never been there.”

As time marched on, the storefront became home to many regular businesses one would find in the city, while the ballroom was ignored by the living, growing dusty, forgotten, no longer needed. This was the case until theater enthusiast Larry Bryan visited its storefront, then the home to a sign shop.

After inquiring about any large spaces available for a theater in this area, the proprietor of the sign shop who was moving out, showed Bryan this hidden treasure!! It was love at first sight! The storefront area became the lobby, decorated “Bohemian style,” and the ballroom was converted into a theater which offers high energy theatrical entertainment for 60 patrons.

The kind of theater provided by this theater company and the room’s aura of energy, it is a perfect match for the type of theater that National Pastime brings to Chicago. Their website states, “We push ourselves to the limit, and our audiences as well. We aspire to bring people into the work, not just into the theater: we want to create terror, awe. We want to sell dreams, not just tickets.”



Earthly places where people had a great time can be candidates for being after-life haunts, rather than go on to the next world.

During Prohibition, this ballroom was filled with joy and energy, produced by people having a great time dancing to live music, feeling good from bathtub gin and champaign and other banned liquid medications, letting off steam and partying the night away!



Described as “Merry Spirits,” the ghosts that haunt the ballroom are good natured entities who enjoy the theater productions, approve of the living’s efforts and then have their own parties when the living close up the room and the place is empty of life.

Theater groups who occasionally rent the theater for their productions, the performers of the National Pastime Theater and their audiences are pumped by an exciting energy which exists in this room.

Larry Bryan explains in the website article by Anne Keegan, “You walk into the room and you feel that there is a magic here. It has the smell of notorious about it. There is a life to this room that embraces you. The actors feel it. The audience feels it.”

After moving heavy seating around one evening during a construction project, Larry and crew went out to dinner late one night, leaving just one section of seating on the floor which they planned to move back later. Each section took 4 men to move. When they came back to the theater around 2 am, to finish moving the seating, they were surprised to see that the heavy seating had been moved back where it belonged, again clearing the ballroom floor. Larry was the only one with a key to the place.

Perhaps the entities wanted to help the living in moving the remaining seating, or perhaps they wanted room to dance at one of their after hours entity parties.

The entities who haunt this room enjoy playing with electricity, especially the stage lights.

After working one night alone in the theater, Larry turned off all the lights and stepped out for a time. When he returned, all the stage lights were again blazing.

After a show or a late night work detail, and the room is empty and locked, the ghosts can be heard laughing, perhaps discussing the newest production, and singing jazz tunes.

“We hear them very often late at night after we have closed up at 2 or 3 in the morning. The doors of the theater will be closed. I will be in the lobby. You hear people laughing. We hear a woman that sings all the time. Beautiful jazz,” said Larry Bryan.


Yes indeed!

These fun-loving entities welcome this new form of entertainment which takes place in their ballroom. They find the living entertaining, worthy of their encouragement and positive energy! Plus, after the living leave, they once again have the place to themselves, to relive their good times, sing a few tunes and perhaps laugh about the show they just saw.



National Pastime Theater Co.
4139 North Broadway Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60613.
(773) 327-7077 * (733) 327-7422

One can find The National Pastime Theater in northern Chicago on N. Broadway Street, which is located West of N. Clarendon Avenue & Hwy 41, East of Graceland Cemetery and N. Sheridan Road, and North of W. Irving Park Road.


    Ghostlore of the Windy City
    By Ursula Bielsk
    pg. 128
    Lake Claremont Press
Haunts in Chicago Haunts in Illinois