30 July, 2008

Uptown Theatre in Chicago Finds a New Buyer

As friends and family know, Ted and I have long been advocates for the renovation of the Balaban and Katz Uptown Theatre, which is perhaps the biggest movie palace ever built in the United States. We were only ever able to go inside once--it's been closed since the early eighties--but we've hosted a petition to renovate it, published a free PDF reprint of the opening day Balaban and Katz magazine, took part in a documentary (click here for a preview), and pretty much prayed for its restoration and despaired that we would never see it happen. Well, yesterday it was purchased at a forced judicial sale/auction for $3.2 million, and the new owner hopes to see it restored. We have our fingers crossed. It's going to cost a bundle.

Anyway, here's an excerpt from an entry I wrote last fall for my other blog, which focuses on the history of the Uptown Chicago neighborhood. To read a more complete history of the theatre, go to our Web site: Compass Rose Uptown Theatre History.


Near the end of 2005, I was lucky enough to take part in filming a documentary about the preservation efforts surrounding the Uptown Theatre. Prior to that, I had only glimpsed the interior from the street, but I had heard stories of its grandeur. My Aunt Marsha had told me how, during high school in the late fifties, she and her best friend would sneak into the Uptown to catch a show. It was also one of my dad's favorite theatres, the others being the Granada (demolished in the 1990s) and the Nortown (undergoing demolition this year). There really aren't many of these great movie palaces left standing.

The Uptown is a bit of a mystery to most folks in the neighborhood. It's been closed for decades, and it's very difficult to get permission to go inside. I work with Friends of the Uptown, and even I haven't been able to go back inside since 2005. (The caretakers won't let anyone in without a signed waiver from the city, and it's pretty much locked down tight. ) The exterior facade has been stabilized, which means that much of the elaborate terra cotta has been taken down for safe storage. She's certainly not looking her best, and for that she's often called "an eyesore" and a "stumbling block to neighborhood progress." But if they could only look inside! It's still in remarkably good shape. While many of the fixtures have been taken down and stored away over the years, the physical structure and the majority of the decorative plaster and features are there. I do have strong hope for its restoration. There are entertainment prospects who are interested. And heck, if the Oriental Theatre downtown can reopen after being shuttered for 18 years (and now hosting a very successful run of Wicked), it's quite feasible for another movie palace--this one located directly on the train line and in a rapidly improving area--to do the same...


John said...

God that's beautiful. It's sad no one puts that much effort into buildings anymore.

Marilyn said...

Joanne, I'm so glad you're on the case. The Uptown is such an incredible chunk of history and deserves the attention. Nice pics!

Jen said...

I was thinking the same thing as Marilyn. It is a shame so, so many great buildings like this are demoed every day. This building is lucky to have you on it's side.

And as John says...No one! not even the current "great" architects place this much detail in any building anymore.

Jean Martha said...

It looks gorgeous and I love your interpretation of that wall sculpture!! The Fiance hopes to someday buy an old theatre.