Join us for a visit to the Kennedy [video by Rod J. Eckrich]


The Kennedy keeps ’em rocking for more

The Kennedy Theatre’s retro charm always separated it from the pack. Located in Hammond’s Hessville neighborhood, its interior decor and small-town appeal set it apart from the local multiplexes that grow like weeds. I’ve seen a slew of movies there over the years, including “Dick Tracy,” “Pulp Fiction,” “Radioland Murders,” “The River Wild,” “Duck Tales: Treasure of the Lost Lamp” and “Where the Wild Things Are.” And I saw a lot of Disney first-runs along with re-releases.

The majority of movie theaters are a hassle to go to. Aside from early showings or midnight screenings, I never have had an enjoyable experience at a local multiplex. Sure, I have seen plenty of good movies there, but people chat and text away with total disregard for others. It is amazing how going to the movies has become such a staple of socializing that people seem to have forgotten how to sit quietly and watch something with respect for the experience.

Plus, technology that has made TV screens big enough to fool consumers into thinking they own a home theater has diminished the allure of moviegoing as a communal experience.

There aren't many theaters left that are like the Kennedy. A few family-run theaters exist in The Region but are always in competition with the multiplexes. The Kennedy has survived for decades for a variety of reasons. Its retro charm remains, and I don’t think any renovation could wipe out the feel of the Hammond of yesteryear. Plus, its famous rocking chairs flat-out are beyond comfortable. In fact, when the Kennedy removed the first three rows of rocking seats, patrons complained.

The theater was called the Ace until President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. Back then, the owner would conduct quizzes with the kids in the audience, which WJOB-AM 1230 later would broadcast. The theater previously was owned by Mr. Hennessey, who ran it for 40 years until his death, prompting the Kennedy to shut down for a year or so.

Chris and Lori Benavidez have owned the theater for the past four years, acquiring it from Chris’ cousin Ronald Heller and friend Chris Companiott. Ronald and Chris took it on for about five years but didn't have the time to focus on the place because of their jobs. The Benavidezes are movie lovers and learned how to run a theater as they went along. The Kennedy keeps up with the newest releases as well as movies that are current by a few weeks. Horror and thrillers along with family- or kid-oriented movies go over well. The theater’s customer base is faithful and grows by word of mouth, so there’s little need to advertise.

The Kennedy remains a staple of the Hessville area. Many people are grateful the theater is still open. A lot of neighborhood kids and families patronize it, and some customers even travel from Chicago or Illinois because the price can’t be beat.

"Our concessions are half the price, if not more (discounted), compared to theirs. A lot of our customers say they could never afford to come to the movies, if it wasn't for us, because we are so affordable," Lori Benavidez said.

With two screening rooms--one housing about 130 people and the other about 140--there’s little chance of overcrowding. The Kennedy also offers a balcony with about 22 seats in one of the screening rooms. I recommend sitting up there: The cost includes unlimited popcorn and soda.

Most recently I visited the theater to see “Hop” and “Scream 4.” While I didn't think the movies were all that great, I definitely enjoyed the ambiance and the interaction with the staff.

“I believe we thrive not only because we are cheaper, but it is a more personal experience,” Lori Benavidez said. “We have made and met several new friends, and people who will just stop in to say hi or grab a pop or popcorn. A lot of people don't like to be rushed through like cattle. We have more of that old, hometown feel."

Going to the Kennedy makes me not want to go to the local multiplex, and I would encourage people to check out and support local, independent businesses instead of the same-old, same-old.

The Kennedy is at 6735 Kennedy Ave., Hammond. To keep up with the latest releases and showtimes, visit or call (219) 845-5336.