Uptown Theatre

Bringing the Uptown Back to Life

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Last December, my blog asked the question “Can the Uptown be saved?” Earlier this month, that question was answered when the city’s Community Development Commission signed off on a $75 million plan to renovate the 93-year-old Uptown Theatre.

In a statement, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel said “The restored building will be the centerpiece of the new, revitalized entertainment district that will attract hundreds of thousands of show-goers while promoting continued economic growth for the surrounding neighborhood.”

The City of Chicago has worked to protect and preserve the Spanish Revival-style building for several decades. In 1991, it was designated a City of Chicago landmark to preserve its exterior and interior from alteration or demolition. The plan calls for exterior work to repair the building’s masonry and terra cotta and improve marquees and related signage, among other repairs and improvements. Interior improvements will include new elevators and concession stations, new mechanical, electrical, plumbing and life-safety systems. Restored decorative finishes, new seats and a reconfigured first-floor will increase total capacity from approximately 4,100 to 5,800 people.

According to The Chicago Tribune, the lead architects of the restoration will be the Lamar Johnson Collaborative.

“We are more than excited,” said George Halik, a principal at Lamar Johnson, noting that he'd been working on the Uptown project for more than 10 years under various different plans. “This plan is the right way to go. We’re working with the parameters of the existing building. And we’re putting the money where it will be of most use, both structurally and visually.”

Block Club Chicago posted some amazing photographs of the interior of the grand movie palace, portraying the size and scope of the work ahead. If all goes as planned, the restoration will begin in August 2019.

Can The Uptown Be Saved?

Earlier this year Preservation Chicago joined the effort to save a Chicago landmark - the Uptown Theatre.  The organization has asked those concerned with historic preservation, neighborhood vitality and the economic future of the city to sign and promote the “Mayor Rahm Emanuel: Restore the Uptown!” petition.

The Uptown is often described as a massive, ornate "movie palace" located in Chicago's Uptown neighborhood. It opened its doors on August 18, 1925. With 4,381 seats, the Uptown's interior volume is said to be larger than any other movie palace in the United States, including Radio City Music Hall in New York. It has been closed to regular audiences since 1981 and preservationists are concerned that something needs to be done now to prevent permanent ruin. "If this isn't resolved soon, this building will continue to deteriorate," says Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago.

An article by Mark Guarino in last week's Crain's Chicago Business details plans that have yet to materialize. There are certainly barriers to it's restoration, but many are still working to overcome those barriers - including Friends of the Uptown. As Ald. James Cappleman, 46th Ward is quoted: "I believe that next chapter of the story of this great theater will be written very soon, and there has never been a better time for this project to move forward." We will see what 2018 brings.