Uptown Theatre News


Uptown Theatre News — Oct 9, 2006

Does the City of Chicago Plan to Purchase the Uptown Theatre?

Reprinted with permission from the Uptown Adviser newsletter published by Friends of the Uptown.

Uptown Theatre, Chicago.

Uptown Theatre, 1980. Image courtesy The Commission on Chicago Landmarks.

News of the recent discussions of city leaders about the possibility of acquiring the UPTOWN THEATRE, Chicago, building, has been repeated in a few online sources. Most of the mentions were in local message boards, blogs, and e-mail services such as this one.

The Sun-Times column below probably captures it best. Three important things to keep in mind when reading this news are:

1. Acquisition could include a purchase or the use of eminent domain powers.

2. Even though the city has been given the authority to pursue acquisition by its Community Development Commission, it doesn’t mean that it has to act on it. This authority can be used as a bargaining tool in negotiations for the best renovation and reuse with the best of current entertainment prospects.

3. This activity was triggered by the fact that multiple, big entertainment prospects (national and international companies) are considering the building and its potential at this time. In the interest of renovation for entertainment uses for the large auditorium and three lobbies, this is a wonderful problem to have.

Note: It is interesting to read how the seat count of the UPTOWN varies in different reports. It opened in 1925 with 4,381. Does anyone know how many seats it holds today, based on the reseating of the floor and mezzanine in the 1940s? The large balcony retains its original 1925 seats.

Columnist David Roeder, below, puts the number at 4,500. When it is renovated, it will probably hold fewer seats as people, in general, have gotten bigger/wider, and comfort/space demands of the customer are a little different than they were in the 1920s or 1940s. And, space will be made to accommodate persons with disabilities.

...from David Roeder’s Sun-Times column:

UPTOWN UPDATE: By a vote of the Community Development Commission, city officials have given themselves authority to forcibly acquire the landmark Uptown Theatre, 4816 N. Broadway. It’s a tactic to put pressure on the current ownership, which includes investment adviser Robert Lunn, to solicit offers for the theater, closed since 1981.

Greg Harris, chief of staff for Ald. Mary Ann Smith (48th), said the “larger entertainment organizations in the country have been looking at” the Uptown. It contains 4,500 seats (sic); show business apparently is looking with favor on larger venues these days.

Some Uptown residents told me they suspect the city wants to convey the property to developer Peter Holsten, whose firm has conducted repairs there under court approval. But Harris said operating a theater isn’t what Holsten wants to do and that his work at the property is over.

Related links

Ald. Mary Ann Smith (48th)

Petition for Renovation and Reuse of the Uptown Theatre

Architecture Observer Lynn Becker

WTTW Premiere of Uptown Theatre Documentary a Success!

Uptown: Portrait of a Palace premiered on WTTW’s Image Union, a showcase for independent filmmakers, on October 6. We’d like to thank filmmakers John Pappas and Michael Bisberg for their outstanding work in helping to raise awareness of the Uptown Theatre’s potential.

Award-Winning Documentary Now Available on DVD

Uptown: Portrait of a Palace

Uptown: Portrait of a Palace

A Film by John Pappas and Michael Bisberg

Progenitor of the largest U.S. movie palaces of the mid-to-late 1920s, the Uptown Theatre, Chicago, operated profitably and survived several shifts in entertainment and public taste before closing in 1981. Since then, the closed colossus has been one of the biggest mysteries of Chicago’s North Side. Though the Uptown is a popular favorite venue for generations of Chicagoans and a City landmark since 1991, it is increasingly threatened by its disuse and real-estate speculation.

The film presents a brief history of the Uptown Theatre and explores why the largest and one of the most elaborate theatres in the nation has been left vacant for 25 years. It uses interviews with eight sources close to the theatre and breathtaking footage from inside the rarely seen venue to invite the viewer to question what is really important in a society fueled by money and private interest.

Order Your Copy Now!

Uptown: Portrait of a Palace comes in an attractive, full-color DVD case with liner notes. Don’t miss your chance to own a copy of this award-winning documentary. To see the original theatrical trailer and purchase your copy, please visit the item detail page.

Chronicling Uptown’s History

If you have any stories, images, or photos of Uptown’s past that you’d like to share, please drop us a line. We’d love your help recording our neighborhood’s roots. We’re interested in the history of Uptown’s people just as much as its historic architecture and entertainment history. Our e-mail address is editor@compassrose.org.


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