LINCOLN SQUARE — Tom Fencl, owner of the Davis Theater and a beloved business leader in the Lincoln Square and North Center neighborhoods, died Sunday after battling lung cancer.
Fencl, 54, was a lifelong Chicagoan who attended John F. Kennedy High School and attended both Northern Illinois University and DePaul University. He was an accomplished real estate broker and developer who often worked with the North Center Chamber of Commerce, Lincoln Square Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce, and the Ravenswood Community Council.
But he’s probably best known for the $4 million renovation of the Davis Theater at 4614 N. Lincoln Ave.
“He was a tremendous community steward and will be sorely missed. Over the last several decades he’s given so much to our Lincoln Square and North Center communities,” said Ald. Matt Martin (47th). “I was aware he was sick for a little while, but hadn’t heard things had taken a turn and was profoundly sad to find out about his passing.”
Fencl bought the Davis in 2001. The theater, built shortly after World War I, had seen better days when he took it over. After securing landmark status from the National Park Service, he renovated the theater to include a state-of-the-art sound system and the addition of a new restaurant, Carbon Arc, among other things.
“You’re going to get the visual of what it was like 100 years ago,” Fencl told DNAinfo just before construction began in 2015.
The following year the remodeled Davis and Carbon Arc opened to the public. Fencl’s renovations, which preserved the theater’s Art Deco charm, were recognized in 2018 by the Landmarks Illinois Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Preservation Award for Rehabilitation.
“Tom’s work will forever tower over North Lincoln Avenue. As the owner of the Davis Theater, he not only saved a local landmark, but gave it a new life,” said Lindsay Eanet, the North Center Chamber’s executive director.
Since its reopening, the Davis has also become a community hub where people gather for parties, community events and fundraisers for a number of causes, Eanet said.
“Tom was an early and enthusiastic supporter of Heart of Lincoln Square and absolutely shared in our vision of a strong and connected community,” said Paige Worthy, cofounder of the neighborhood association.
Fencl worked with the association to host aldermanic debates and state of the neighborhood events at the theater.
“He opened the doors of the Davis wide for our first community meeting and offered up his biggest theater for our biggest event of 2019. He was incredibly devoted to this neighborhood and put his money where his mouth was as a vocal advocate for everything Lincoln Square is,” Worthy said.
Fencl also wore a number of hats with the North Center Chamber, including Commissioner of SSA #38, Treasurer of the Board, Vice President of Events and Chairman of the Ribfest Chicago Committee.
“He was the king of Ribfest, bringing thoughtfulness, innovation and a great deal of fun, helping make our neighborhood festival a huge success year after year,” Eanet said.
Fencl is survived by his wife of 28 years Mary and his children Emma, Grace, Lillian and Dennis.
“He was a devoted family man and friend to many, the fun-loving life of the party who could be counted on for a thrilling story from his many travels, a hilarious joke or even an elaborate costume for a premiere or themed event,” Eanet said. “His generosity — whether to the neighborhood or to the many friends and nieces and nephews who called him ‘Uncle Fun-cl’—was, and is, unmatched.”
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