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‘R’ Is For Riviera: Uptown Mural Honors Neighborhood’s Historic Marquees, Letter By Letter

The mural's lettering recalls Uptown landmarks like the Green Mill, the Uptown Theatre and the Riviera Theatre.

Artist Left Handed Wave's new Uptown mural pays homage to the neighborhood's historic marquees and signage.
Joe Ward/Block Club Chicago
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UPTOWN — The newest mural in Uptown pays homage to the neighborhood’s marquees and iconic buildings, past and present.

Unveiled last week, the mural on the concrete wall at 1145 W. Wilson Ave. reads: “Beyond human dreams of loveliness.”

That’s a quote describing the Uptown Theatre, with each of the mural’s letters based on marquees and other signs from the neighborhood’s stock of historic venues and buildings, both still in existence and long gone.

“Here is the Uptown Theatre. It is beyond human dreams of loveliness, rising in mountainous splendor, achieving that overpowering sense of tremendous size and exquisite beauty — a thing that comes miraculously seldom,” reads a passage from Balaban & Katz Magazine, the publication of the company that built and operated the historic theater.

Credit: Courtesy Uptown United
A rendering of artist Left Handed Wave’s new Uptown mural.

Those words now adorn the 150-foot wall along Harry Truman City College’s Wilson Avenue frontage. The mural is the work of Chicago artist Left Handed Wave, who wanted to pay homage to the Uptown Theatre while also drawing on the neighborhood’s history of iconic venues, businesses and clubs.

“Not only did I want to represent Uptown’s crown jewel, but I also wanted to recognize the many past and present establishments that make the neighborhood so unique,” he said.

Some of the letters are instantly recognizable. The “R” and “M” in “Dreams” are inspired by the Riviera Theatre and the Green Mill. The “Y” in “Beyond” references the “Asia on Argyle” signage that accompanies the area’s shared street concept.

A good number of the businesses and buildings referenced in the mural are long gone or now exist in a new form. The project allowed Left Handed Wave to take a deep dive into one of the most historic neighborhoods in the city, with the artist finding inspiration in a tiki bar’s business cards, bar soap packaging from a local factory and a matchbook from a Lawrence Avenue Cocktail Lounge.

“Uptown is truly a gem,” Left Handed Wave said in an email. “It was an honor to shed some light on the neighborhood’s historic past with a positive contribution to its vibrant future.”

Here is some history behind the some of the businesses referenced in Uptown’s new mural, “Beyond Human Dreams Of Loveliness.”

‘E’ in ‘Dreams’

Credit: Joe Ward/Block Club Chicago
The blue “E” stems from signage for the Kinetic Playground.

The bubbly blue “E” is inspired by the Kinetic Playground, 4812 N. Clark St., a short-lived Uptown rock club that was considered Chicago’s “principal” stop in the late 1960s rock circuit.

The club opened in 1968 and hosted acts like Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead and the Kinks, according to Chicagoist. Left Handed Wave sent over a concert flier for a truly amazing run of shows in early 1969. Kinetic Playground closed later that year due to a fire.

[Courtesy Left Handed Wave]

‘M’ in ‘Human’

Credit: Joe Ward/Block Club Chicago
The red “M” comes from Majestic For Men clothing store.

The bright red, block ‘M’ on the mural comes from the business signage for Majestic For Men, a menswear store that inhabited a historic building at 4701 N. Broadway. The business’ sign remained posted on the building long after the store had closed up, DNAinfo reported in 2014.

The clothing store inhabited the Rubloff Building, built in 1922 to fit under the Red Line tracks, constructed the year before. The building’s roof collapsed and its terra cotta walls started to crumble, Uptown Update wrote in 2014.

City crews took down the rest of the building to make way for the new Wilson Red Line station, but some of the building’s terra cotta was preserved, according to the blog.

[Courtesy Left Handed Wave]

‘E’ in ‘Beyond’

Credit: Joe Ward/Block Club Chicago
Uptown’s new mural, titled “Beyond Human Dreams O Lovliness.”

The building at 1345 W. Argyle Ave. is now part of the St. Augustine College campus, but in a past life it was one of the “foremost” film studios in the country, according to Atlas Obscura.

Known as Essany Studios, the studio was founded in 1907 and saw the production of some of Silent Era classics, including Charlie Chaplin’s “The Tramp.”

The studio closed in 1917, and the building became a Chicago landmark in 1996. A plan by the college to turn a portion of the complex into a silent film history museum was abandoned in 2013, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Credit: Courtesy Left Handed Wave
Signage for Essanay Studios.

‘D’ in ‘Beyond’

Credit: Joe Ward/Block Club Chicago
Uptown’s new mural, titled “Beyond Human Dreams O Lovliness.”

This business is technically in Lakeview, but highlights the area’s past as a haven for movie palaces and theaters.

The Mode Theatre opened as the Keystone Theatre in 1913 at Sheridan Road and Dakin Street, according to Cinema Treasures. In 1933, it received a remodeling and rebranding into the Mode Theatre, including a new Art Deco marquee.

In the 1960s, the theater was renamed the Teatro Puerto Rico and began showing Spanish-Language films. In 1969, it was renamed the Festival Theatre and began showing arthouse features before moving into the pornographic movie business. It was demolished in 2005, according to the film blog.

The Mode Theater looking north along Sheridan Road. [Courtesy IDOT Chicago Traffic Photographs Collection via University of Illinois-Chicago]

‘S’ in ‘Loveliness’

Credit: Joe Ward/Block Club Chicago
The yellow “S” comes from signage for the Sheridan Plaza Hotel.

Opened in the 1920s, the Sheridan Plaza Hotel at Sheridan Road and Wilson Avenue was one of the most lavish hotels during Chicago’s Jazz Age, according to Chicago Magazine.

The hotel operated until the 1970s and was later remade in the 1980s as an apartment building. It’s condition deteriorated, with its terra cotta exterior falling off the building. The building went into foreclosure and was bought by a developer, who restored the building (and raised rents) in 2010.

The ornate “S” in the mural comes from this flier for the hotel.

Courtesy Left Handed Wave

Here is what every letter in the new mural represents, courtesy of Left Handed Wave:

B: Burlesk Backstage, 935 Wilson Ave

E: Essany Film Manufacturing Co, 1345 W Argyle St

Y: Asia on Argyle, Argyle St between Broadway & Winthrop

O: Argmore Theatre, Argyle & Kenmore

N: Harry S Truman College, 1145 W Wilson Ave

D: Mode Theatre, 3912 N Sheridan

H: Howey’s Old World Inn, 5120 N Broadway

U: Uptown Theatre, 4816 N Broadway

M: Majestic for Men, 4701 N Broadway

A: Honolulu Harry’s Waikiki, 804 Wilson Ave

N: Aragon Ballroom Menu, 1106 W Lawrence Ave

D: Doublyn, 1144 Wilson Ave

R: Riviera Theatre, 4746 N Racine Ave

E: Kinetic Playground, 4812 N Clark St

A: Aragon Ballroom, 1106 W Lawrence Ave

M: Green Mill, 4802 N Broadway St

S: Harry S Truman College, 1145 W Wilson Ave

O: Me Too Accessories, 4541 N Clark St

F: Warehouse Furniture Outlet (McJunkin Building), 4554 N Broadway

L: Barouge Lounge, 1201 W Wilson

O: Devine’s Foot Soap Co, 4903 N Ravenswood

V: Viceroy Hotel, 4758 Kenmore Ave

E: Felix Restaurant & Cocktail Lounge, 1101 Lawrence Ave

L: Star of Texas Liquor & Wine, 4818 N Broadway

I: Loren Miller & Co Dry Goods, Broadway & Lawrence

N: Mekong Vietnamese, 4953-55 N Broadway

E: Edgewater Beach Hotel, 5300 N Sheridan

S: Hotel Sheridan Plaza, 4706 N Sheridan

S: Saxony Liquors, 1136 W Lawrence Ave

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