Congress Theater

2135 N. Milwaukee Avenue,
Chicago, IL 60647

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Showing 26 - 50 of 71 comments

JudithK on January 2, 2012 at 6:38 am

The Congress Theater made the Chicago news today after a young woman, unable to enter the theatre for a concert on New Years' Eve due to lack of proper ID, was the victim of a violent crime. The crime may or may not result in investigations concerning security issues for the venue.

SilentScreens on July 29, 2011 at 12:09 am

David: I curated an exhibit for the Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival this year on historic cinematic architecture. I would love to be put in touch with the projectionist’s daughter if possible or, at least, hear some of those stories – maybe snag a picture or two!

DavidZornig on July 7, 2011 at 11:04 am

I met the daughter of one of 2 original Congress Theater projectionists, yesterday at my aunt’s nursing home. I’m going to quiz her about stories & maybe some pictures at a later date. Her dad was Fred Galluzzo. The 2nd was a man named Sam, whose last name she couldn’t recall. They used to drop their dad at work, so they could keep the car for the day.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on January 2, 2011 at 10:48 am

In response to Sepctrum, that is the way the Congress has always looked: very shallow balcony.

DavidZornig on January 2, 2011 at 10:22 am

The Congress made the news this morning. Apparently Chuck Berry collapsed and had to be helped off stage during his show last night. But returned later to a thinning crowd.

At 84, he had supposedly done 2 New Years shows the night before in New York.
One story has him being checked out by paramedics before the Congress show. Only to fall ill during it as well.
He left in a limo though, not an ambulance.

spectrum on October 12, 2010 at 5:06 pm

From those recent photos it looks like the shelf balcony has been removed.

monika on October 22, 2009 at 11:54 am

The Congress Theater was featured on the October 21, 2009 episode of the paranormal show “Ghost Hunters”. The show can be seen in its entirety at

DavidZornig on April 18, 2009 at 7:59 pm

I didn' realize that the blade letters were removed prior to `82. For the record, that used car lot pictured is also now gone. Maybe within the last 3-4 years.

DavidZornig on April 14, 2009 at 10:30 pm

Reactivate Notification Status.

DavidZornig on November 26, 2008 at 2:53 pm

Yes, you got me, I do agree. I guess the State St. elevation just turned my stomach so bad, that I wanted to throw the baby out with the bath water.
Even the shorter building next door to the North is a basically a prop front.
Illuminated window boxes where Dr. Wax Records or whatever used to be.

Thanks for educating me on some of landmark status' angles. What I heard on CVS was they were fully expecting a new structure at first. Then the powers that be informed the building’s actual owner (CVS is a tenant), that the building must remain. CVS then reluctantly agreed to the conversion.
They should have just gone over to the 17 year vacant-S/E corner, which already looked like a drug store. Now a Bank of America.

The heights of the old Hotsie and apartment building to the East consequently had to be rebuilt as was by CVS.
Hence the differing heights.

The Congress has hope, but is in bad need of some cosmetic TLC.
I understand why they removed the seats, but it cost them the “new” roller derby in the process.

The biggest, costliest thing about these old palaces, is heating them in the winter. And keeping a roof and the brickwork watertight.

Broan on November 26, 2008 at 2:32 pm

Well, landmarks aren’t supposed to be contingent on how well the properties are taken care of, it’s about their architectural, social, aesthetic, character or other significance, and how intact that is. And the Congress definitely retains a high degree of integrity. Any number of locally designated landmarks are literally falling down. Interior landmarking is still extremely rare for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the difficulty of regulation.

The only protection National Register protection provides is review if federal funding or permits are involved. The only way local landmarking applies protection to NRHP buildings is if there is some rule that any NRHP building automatically gets local landmarking status too.

The CVS is pretty universally reviled. CVS acted in bad faith and I think broke some laws in their renovation, and the fairly weak Chicago Landmarks Commission didn’t force them to fix it all the way. But I think you’d agree that’s still preferable to having a standard CVS on that corner.

DavidZornig on November 26, 2008 at 2:15 pm

Greetings BWChicago. I’ll gladly admit that I probably know next to nothing, on how the landmarking is supposed to or does work.
After surviving Ald. Natarus for over 30 years in my old ward, I only know how I would have “liked” landmarking to work.
Given everything classic that was taken down on the Near North side over the years,
landmark status sadly always seemed like a last resort that ended up not protecting anything enough anyway.

I do know though that most owners are resistant to landmark status. Because of the limitations it puts them under on how they can ever remodel in the future. However as we’ve learned in some cases though, even that status is so loose that sometimes all they need do is preserve the facade.
Even a “National Register of Historic Places” status doesn’t really protect a building in Chicago. I’ll await to see what happens to Pearson St.(Hair Loft) by Loyola.

Sometimes even an opposite “preservation overkill” is applied. Building’s that even I agree should have come down, but instead were poorly rebuilt to remain “preserved”.
The CVS at State & Division is a perfect example. They simply tore down everything except the outsides walls of it, and it’s Northbound neighbor. Then they built the CVS inside of it all. Even the upstairs in fake. A backlit hollow space over two stories tall inside. They blasted a blank brown sign right through an old concrete morter & pestal motif on the State St. side. Ironically it was originally a drug store. Then they hacked off brick work from where a door used to be, and left it that way.
Truly an eyesore “after” preservation.

I guess my interpretation of how landmarking “should” work, is that a protected building is just that.
And that only plumbing, HVAC, electric & the roof would be capable of being updated. But in a case of say the Esquire, I would have been happy if they rebuilt the interior however was needed to make it workable. Since it was already gutted when it was multi-plexed. Aty least we’d get to keep the art deco exterior & marquee.

Broan on November 26, 2008 at 12:55 am

The Congress recently repainted their marquee.

David, I’m not sure you’re entirely clear on how landmarking is supposed to work.

DavidZornig on August 20, 2008 at 9:23 pm

I finally made it to the Congress Theatre about 2 or 3 years ago. For the triumphant return of women’s roller derby to Chicago, where it all began.

The Windy City Rollers embarked on their maiden matches there, with 4 teams going at it in flat track action. I only remember one team’s name, Hell’s Belle’s. But it was the individual player’s names that were the hook. Val Capone, Anita Beer, Ellen Degenerate, Voodoo Dahl, etc.

In front of the Congress' stage, an illuminated oval track outline was adhered to the auditorium floor.
Using that sealed, clear string lighting that you hang along the bottom of your kitchen cabinets. No pitched, wooden track like those in the `70’s. Eat your heart out Starlight Express.

There was a video presentation, lively announcers and a power point style scoreboard. A band called “Death or Vegas” maybe, comic timed refs, penalty time-outs, and one girl left in an ambulance in less than an hour with a broken leg. So it’s needless to say that it was the real deal, and not just a “show”.

The special guests were an 80 year old member from one of the original roller derby teams, and one of it’s promoters.

Though you could see the action quite well from the main floor seats, it was the balcony that offered the best way from which to view this there.

I think the Windy City Rollers only had one more event there, before the Congress Theatre oddly removed the main floor seating. Basically preventing themselves from ever hosting that type of event again. Strange.
Especially for a place that didn’t seem like it could have had that much more going on on a regular basis. Not that roller derby would become that, but the audience certainly seemed to be there in force. And the neighborhood’s hidden Rockabilly demographic seemed a perfect fit.

The Congress' interior was at that time a little tired out. Signs of age & abuse, certainly from all the various incarnations it had had over the years. I seem to remember black paint in the bathrooms, and some limited plumbing options. Maybe it’s since had some cosmetics done.
But it’s kind of funny that it’s referred to as “One of Chicago’s Grandest Concert Venues”. Much like the self proclaimed “Faded Elegance” of the Riviera, both are a bit of a stretch. But at least the latter implys it knows it.
Just so there’s a point of reference here, the Chicago Theatre is an example of a “grand concert venue”. Seats would be kind of a given, to maintain that type of title.

I remember back in 1988, the Congress had a metal show called something like “JFK Assassination Night”. Complete with a vintage, suicide door Lincoln parked inside the theatre. There were pictures of this in the paper. I can’t imagine this was anything but noise and an eerie similarity to a Marilyn Manson video ten years later. This paragraph doesn’t really belong here, but my lowly WebTV had no way to move it.

By opting to remove the seats presumably permanently, the Congress has shown that the future will most likely be more about quantity than quality. That it will never revert back to a movie palace, and will live forever more as a place for concerts.

I’m both thrilled & surprised that it was able to get landmarked as recently as 2002. But wonder what required improvements or limitations if any, were bestowed upon it with that designation. Did the landmark commission ever tour the place?
Even though many a grander theatre locally has bowed to the wrecking ball, one must wonder how this one was able to be spared. And the others not so lucky. Maybe it was it’s overall relation to the entire building that saved it.
Anyone looking to protect the next one, should maybe study how this one got done.

MKuecker on April 23, 2008 at 8:11 pm

Thanks, Life :) That answered my question to Brian too.

Broan on April 22, 2008 at 2:09 pm

Yes, they did remove the rest of the seats from the main floor. They previously had remained under the balcony.

MKuecker on April 21, 2008 at 5:27 pm

Life’s Too Short: I can’t find the virtual tour page – Please post an URL, and thanks.

Brian K: Thanks for the update. I was told they ripped all the seats out and replaced them with folding chairs. Is it true?

brianbobcat on April 20, 2008 at 12:22 am

I was just here on Thursday for a concert, and was blown away as soon as I walked inside. There is still SO much of the original theater present, from the railings to stone floors and ceiling detail work, but as previously mentioned, a lot is also in ragged shape. The biggest such piece I saw was part from the front (speaker grills?) just in front of the balcony, it looked as if something had landed on the railing and busted off a large chunk. The other side was in perfect shape though. However, as a concert venue now, I don’t think any of the details will be restored but instead, will fall into further disarray. Nice venue for a concert though.


Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on April 7, 2008 at 8:31 am

I was just looking at the virtual tour offered through the theatre’s official web site. Even though they converted the projection booth to a luxury suite, one projector was left in place. I wonder if that projector can actually be used to show films, or if it is just a trendy decoration? I don’t see the array of supporting gear usually apparent in projection booth photos.

MKuecker on December 1, 2007 at 9:12 am

I ride past this on the el every morning. :) It looks so run down from the outside. Nice to know it’s still functioning. :)

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on September 17, 2007 at 12:14 pm

>>At the time of this item Skelton was headlining at the famed Chez Paree.

Sure it wasn’t the Gay Paree? (Or was that red-headed Danny Kaye I’m thinking of?)