WICKER PARK — After nearly 70 years, a piece of Wicker Park’s history was dismantled and carted away Wednesday night with the removal of the iconic neon Double Door sign.
Onlookers gathered at 1572 N. Milwaukee Ave. to snap photos of the sign’s mysterious removal — which immediately led to speculation about what would happen to the beloved sign.
As of Thursday afternoon, it’s not clear.
The new owner of the building, CA Ventures, had the sign removed late Wednesday — much to the surprise of neighborhood stakeholders who have been lobbying to keep it in the neighborhood for months. Newly elected Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st) was not even notified about the sign removal.
A spokesperson for CA Ventures claimed the sign removal was required by the city, and would not say where it was taken or what will happen to it.
“The future use of the sign is yet to be determined,” a CA Ventures spokesperson said. The company did nor return multiple calls for comment about the sign Thursday.
A spokesperson for the Department of Planning and Development said city code considers the Double Door sign “abandoned.”
Since the sign is in the public way, with pedestrians walking beneath it, it needs a regularly-issued permit, the spokesman said. Since no one has taken responsibility for the sign in more than a year, the city considered it abandoned.
CA Ventures would have had to stall their building permit to get the sign in good legal standing or get rid of it, which is ultimately what they did.
After a few months of trying to work out a deal to keep the sign, the impetus eventually fell on CA Ventures to either remove the sign or apply for landmark status, a process that can last a year, Yeti’s zoning attorney Sara Barnes said.
“They don’t want to keep the site vacant for that long,” she said. “Believe it or not, that sign alone would have held up permits for the building.”
The removal happened around the same time La Spata and other neighborhood leaders were discussing the future of the sign at a community meeting, with most wanting the city to protect it as a piece of Wicker Park history.
Alma Wieser, the co-owner and director of Heaven Gallery, asked what would happen to the sign once Texas-based high-end cooler and outdoor supplies company Yeti moves into the former Double Door building.
After the meeting, Wieser said she cried when she learned the sign had come down.
“I walked past that sign everyday. It was so meaningful because it reminded us what this neighborhood was,” Wieser said. “That sign was not only a landmark of Milwaukee, North and Damen but it was a tombstone that honored our cultural past.”
Even Barnes, who has been working with Yeti and CA Ventures, was stunned by the removal of the sign. She said she ran to 1572 N. Milwaukee Ave. Wednesday night as soon as she heard the news.
She said she and Yeti had spent the last two months trying to work out a compromise.
Yeti even proposed altering the sign to say “Yeti Liquors” to avoid a city code issue, but officials told Barnes that wouldn’t fly because Yeti did not plan on selling packaged liquors.
Doug Schmidt, the director of retail operations for Yeti, unveiled its plans for the store at the same meeting.
Nearly 70 Years In Wicker Park
Tom Brickler, owner of Bucktown’s Neon Shop Fishtail, which repairs and restores neon signs, told DNAinfo that the 16-foot-tall sign, made of red and white porcelain with neon lettering on both sides, dates to the 1950s.
Prior to Double Door opening in June 1994, the corner spot was home to a unique hybrid: Double Door Liquors and a country and western bar, Main Street Tavern.
“Country in the front and liquor in the back,” was how Brickler — who was hired in the early 1980s to maintain the sign’s neon lettering — described the layout.
Main Street Tavern’s clientele were part of “a crazy hillbilly crowd,” who were not happy about the “corporate” encroachment of the Double Door music club, which adopted the name of the liquor store, Brickler told DNAinfo.
Double Door co-owner Sean Mulroney told the Wicker Park Insider’s Guide that back in 1994, the Main Street Tavern owners would put glue in the locks to prevent the new tenants from getting inside.
While the sign is historically significant to the neighborhood, Barnes and CA Ventures said they were forced to remove it.
“Believe it or not, that sign alone would have held up permits for the building,” Barnes said.
What About The Double Door In Uptown?
In December, Ald. James Cappleman (46th) announced that the Double Door would reopen in Uptown. But since then, the Double Door’s owners Sean Mulroney and Joe Shanahan have not responded to multiple requests for comment.
On Thursday morning, the future site of the Double Door at the Wilson Avenue Theater, 1050 W. Wilson Ave., was empty with no sign in sight.
Despite the silence from the Double Door, Cappleman still “feels confident” the move will happen, according to his chief of staff Tressa Feher.
“This is not totally unusual for small local businesses,” she said. “It can take a long time to get a deal worked out.
In December, there was a Smashing Pumpkins pop-up in the new Uptown space but since then, there’s been no visible movement at the theater building and no updates on when or if the venue is still coming.
Meanwhile, Wicker Parkers were devastated to see a piece of the neighborhood’s history gone overnight. People shared their memories of shows at the Double Door on Facebook and Instagram.
“We wanna keep that sign,” Barnes said during the Wednesday meeting, urging members of the Wicker Park Committee to call the city’s Landmarks Commission and lobby to keep it in the neighborhood.
The 23-year-old, 550-capacity club at 1572 N. Milwaukee Ave. was evicted by landlord Brian Strauss in February of 2017 after a prolonged legal battle.
During its 23 years, Double Door’s stage welcomed The Rolling Stones, Smashing Pumpkins, Rise Against and Sonic Youth.
This story will be updated.
Alisa Hauser’s reporting contributed to this story.
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