A History of the Uptown Theatre

Hope for the Future of the Uptown Theatre

Upon its opening, the press proclaimed that the Uptown Theatre was built “not for today but for all time.” We should not let this historic gem of Chicago history and architecture fade away. Its doors have been closed for many years, but that should not be a deterrent to seeing it restored. Other theaters, including the Chicago Theatre, have succeeded as restored venues, bringing new life to the surrounding area. The Oriental Theatre in the Loop was closed for many, many, years before an appropriate reuse plan was brought forth. The same can and should happen here. As we celebrate the 80th anniversary of this grand old theatre, we urge the City of Chicago to take a more proactive role in preserving the Uptown for the citizens of today and for all generations to come.

“As I grew older and accumulated memories, I came to feel more keenly about the disappearances of people and landmarks. Especially troubling to me was the callous removal of buildings. I felt that, somehow, they had a kind of soul. I know now that these structures, barnacled with laughter and stained by tears, are more than lifeless edifices. It cannot be that having been part of life, they did not somehow absorb the radiation from human interaction. And I wonder what is left behind when a building is torn down.”—Will Eisner, The Building, Kitchen Sink Press, 1987.

The Uptown Theatre itself is currently undergoing a massive stabilization effort both inside and out. The groundwork for a full restoration has begun, and the possibilities for this theatre are endless—adjacent to the world-famous Green Mill Jazz Club and steps from other bars and nightclubs, the Uptown Theatre boasts a Broadway-sized stage to accommodate traveling shows as well as major music performances, and can seat in excess of 4000 people. (Back in the seventies and eighties it hosted concerts by the Charlie Daniels Band, the Grateful Dead, Bruce Springsteen, and others.) It is on a prominent “L” train line, and its close approximation to the lake allows for easy access by car. Interested investors should contact the alderman’s office for more information.

Compass Rose Cultural Crossroads will continue to host this petition until the city and the owners of the theatre adopt a reuse and restoration plan worthy of the greatest movie palace in the country. We urge all those who read this brief history to sign our petition and let your voice be heard!

Online Resources and Recommended Sites

Recommended Books

Select Resources

  • Cambell-Duncan, H. “5,000 Guests See Splendors of New Theatre,” Chicago Evening Post, 18 August 1925.
  • Friends of the Uptown, Christopher Jackson, and Erica Zupancic, “Faces of the Uptown 2005 Calendar: Our History in Terra Cotta, Plaster and People,” 2004.
  • Little, Darnell. “Going, Going, Gone,” Chicago Tribune, 15 December, 2003.
  • Lyden, Jacki and Chet Jakus. Legends and Landmarks of Uptown, 1980.
  • Ryan, Nancy. “Uptown Theatre Still Has Grip on Grandeur,” Chicago Tribune, 18 August, 1996.
  • Ryan, Nancy. “Old Uptown Theatre Has Hope Again,” Chicago Tribune 17 September, 1996.
  • Smith, Henry Justin. Chicago: A Portrait, 1931.
  • Theatre Historical Society of America, Marquee Magazine, issues: Volume 5, #2; Volume 9, #2 (Special Issue Uptown); Volume 17, #4 (Special Issue Tivoli); Volume 29, #1; Volume 31, #4 (Rapp and Rapp in the Theatre Art Deco Era); Volume 33, #3; Volume 35, #1 (Chicago: Three Centuries of Theatre);
  • UTCA, “An Historic Overview,” 2001.

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