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Uptown, Edgewater, Rogers Park

Uptown Theater Renovation Would Take 18 Months, Boost Capacity To 5,800

Check out photographer Eric Holubow's photos from inside the palace.

The interior of the Uptown Theater, seen in 2008.
Photo courtesy of Eric Holubow
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UPTOWN — After decades of decay, Chicago officials say the long-talked-about restoration of the Uptown Theater will finally start next summer at a projected cost of $75 million.

If the restoration comes to pass — past promises have fizzled — it would bring back to life one of the most glorious movie palaces in the country, a nearly-century old masterpiece that many hope could launch a rebirth in the neighborhood around it.

The city’s Community Development Commission, which reviews projects that gets tax-increment financing subsidies, signed off the project Tuesday. Some $14 million from an Uptown TIF is earmarked for the restoration.

Credit: City of Chicago, DNAinfo
A rendering of a restored Uptown with a new marquee, and the current Uptown.

The Uptown hasn’t hosted a show since 1981. Politicians, developers, promoters, fans and neighbors have long dreamed of restoring it to its old glory.

Standing at 4816 N. Broadway — but also dominating a large chunk of Lawrence Avenue to the west — the Uptown Theater opened in 1925 for Balaban and Katz Corp. It was designed by brothers Cornelius Ward Rapp and George Leslie Rapp.

“Patrons who stepped past the Spanish Baroque Revival façade of the Uptown Theatre entered into the luxurious, six-story grand lobby felt like they were entering a palace,” according to the Chicago Architecture Center. “In fact, Rapp and Rapp wanted the 46,000-square-foot theater to imitate the palaces of Versailles or St. Petersburg, with statues, paintings and tapestries that were reproductions of the world’s masterpieces.”

Entertainment within it evolved over the years, from silent films and vaudeville to musicals, television tapings and concerts from stars like Bob Marley and the Wailers, the Grateful Dead, Prince and Bruce Springsteen and scores of other big names.

Burst pipes and the subsequent flooding did the theater in in 1981, setting up generations of plans and promises but not much else other than it being used occasionally as a movie set.

But Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has very publicly fantasized of creating an Uptown entertainment district with the Uptown Theatrer as an anchor, says it’s happening.

Here are some the details of the overhaul, according to the city; Jam Productions, the theater’s owner; and Farpoint, the developer on the project.

— The work is scheduled to start in summer 2019 and last 18 months.

— The projected price tag is $75 million. That would be covered, in part, with $13 million in TIF money; $14 million in state money through the Property Assessed Clean Energy Act, which lets building owners make energy-related improvements paid over time through special assessments on the property; $3 million in Adopt-A-Landmark funds; and $10 million in Build Illinois Bond funding. The project is also relying on getting $30 million from “equity, conventional financing or charitable contributions.”

— The capacity is to be increased from 4,100 to 5,800.

— New elevators and concessions will be added.

— A new marquee will be installed on Broadway recreating a marquee of the past. 

— The building exterior’s masonry and terra cotta will be restored.

— A 31,000-square-foot, city-owned parking lot at 1030 W. Lawrence Ave. will be sold to the theater for $1 “to support theater operations following the completion of the planned reconstruction of the adjacent CTA Red Line station,” the city said.

“The Uptown Theatre is one of the greatest theatres in America, and it’s the premier property in Uptown. Its restoration will be expensive, but the theatre is a treasure that must be saved,” said Jam co-founder Jerry Mickelson. “Assistance from all levels of government – local, state, and federal – is necessary to get this project over the finish line. Future generations will not forgive those who do not save this magnificent palace, because a venue like the Uptown Theatre will never be built again.”

Check out these photos taken inside the Uptown Theater in 2008 by photographer Eric Holubow.

Credit: Eric Holubow
Credit: Eric Holubow
Credit: Eric Holubow
Credit: Eric Holubow
Credit: Photo courtesy of Eric Holubow
Credit: Eric Holubow
Credit: Eric Holubow
Credit: Eric Holubow
Credit: Eric Holubow
Credit: Eric Holubow