IRVING PARK — Before it became the Color Club, the building at Elston and Hamlin avenues in Irving Park held private events for decades, first as home to the International Order of Vikings then to the Chicago Latvian Association.
Now rebranded and renovated into an artist studio and community center, Color Club’s owners want a city permit to also use the space as a public events venue.
Abby Monroe and Josh Dihle bought the property at 4146 N. Elston Ave. in April 2020 and began upgrading the building. Part of their plan was to host cultural programs open to the public, but the pandemic delayed that by more than a year.
They recently applied for a public place of amusement license, which would allow them to sell tickets for theater shows and arts-focused performances, instead of only hosting private events and selling concessions. The license would only apply to the building’s tavern, ballroom and museum areas, Monroe said.
The city’s Zoning Board of Appeals is expected to review the application Friday.
“This property has been a place of celebration, community gatherings and cultural expression since its inception,” Monroe said. “We’re really excited to carry on that theme.”
Dihle is an artist who paints, carves and teaches at the School of the Art Institute, and Monroe has worked in community engagement for 15 years.
The couple said they fell in love with the character of the building and worked to preserve as much of it as possible while renovating it. The building was home of the International Order of Vikings from 1922 through 1958, then housed the Chicago Latvian Association until last year.
The improvements retained the building’s structure but repurposed rooms into artist studios, shared tool shops, a library, multi-purpose rooms and other things while keeping the second-floor ballroom and tavern as performance and community gathering spaces.
The couple hosted a Zoom meeting for neighbors to learn more about their plans for Color Club.
Mike Weber, president of the West Walker Civic Association, said his group put together a vision statement for the neighborhood 15 years ago after collecting feedback from residents. One of the items neighbors wanted prioritized was bringing more “cultural and arts innovations” to the area.
“With the new Independence Library, we sort of got a little piece of that. It’s a beautiful new structure. And I think what Abby and Josh have done roughly with the last year … [reflects] exactly the kind of thing that we hoped would happen 15 years ago. Sometimes it takes a long time for dreams to be realized,” Weber said.
Color Club has 16 artists who work in a wide range of mediums in the building’s studios. Some are recent graduates of the School of the Art Institute creating “experimental” art alongside more established artists creating “museum-level” gallery art, Dihle said.
“There’s actually a really great range and a really strong diversity represented in the people who are here making and doing creative things,” Dihle said.
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