Uptown Theater

4816 North Broadway,
Chicago, IL 60640

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Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on November 7, 2008 at 1:46 pm

One of the more interesting shots I have seen:

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DavidZornig
DavidZornig on October 18, 2008 at 3:15 am

I forgot to mention that the Aragon had a sister ballroom around 63rd & Cottage Grove, called The Trianon. I’ve seen some interior pics posted around the net before. It was quite opulant with recessed oval lighting, giant lounges and expensive furniture as would be expected of a theatre type space of it’s vintage.

The Trianon was open from the early 20’s until the late 50's. Then left vacant and torn down in the60’s.
I think I read that they had certain house rules about chaperones, unaccompanied women and interracial dancing to accomodate changing times.

When I worked at Fanning Cadillac on Broadway & Foster, we had a longtime Balmoral neighborhood greeter of Japanese descent, who said she was barred from patronizing the Aragon Ballroom during and shortly after World War II. Some of her famliy had been interred as well. She was a sweetheart of a lady named Dahli, who had a wealth of knowledge about the Uptown neighborhood. Sadly she passed away maybe ten year ago.

Like the Aragon, the Trianon would sometimes do live radio broadcasts of jazz bands at dance events. Some on WGN, and some later transferred to 78rpm records.

Jayne1955
Jayne1955 on October 9, 2008 at 6:16 pm

The floor of the Aragone ball room was built on some kind of spring suspension, so that 8,000 people polka-ing on it would not wind up falling through to the lobby floor. That was one cool building in its day. In the 60’s it was painted with day-glow paint and renamed the Cheeta. Yuck! That was the low point of its life. But no, it isn’t exactly the same situation as a theatre. It was commisioned to Huzach and Hill, but designed by John Eberson, who is well known to theatre buffs, though.

DavidZornig
DavidZornig on October 8, 2008 at 3:50 pm

Greetings. Both the Aragon and Riviera I’d say are considerably smaller than the Uptown. The Uptown boasted “an acre of seats”. So the stage to accomodate a crowd that big would be quite large.
The load-in I’ve seen most at the Riviera, is through a door on on the Lawrence Avenue side. Semi trucks and/or tour buses usually remain parked on the South side of Lawrence as well.
I think trucks/tour buses are currently barred from the North side of Lawrence, because of an existing CTA bus stop and to insure traffic flow.
Since they’ve done primarily just bands since it stopped showing movies, I’d say no elaborate sets were ever really part of the mix.

The Aragon has an alley between itself and the “L” tracks to the West. I’ve seen that alley blocked off before, but also some obvious band trucks & buses in a small corner lot kitty corner and to the East.
Remember too that the Aragon was a ballroom, not a theater. It has a huge oval like dance floor on the second floor. With a stage on the South end of the building. The seats during the ballroom days were along the sides with tables, and above on balconies overlooking the dance floor.
The first floor is just lobby space, some offices and retail storefronts. Used to contain pool halls & liquor stores etc.
Some concerts I remember in the 70's &80’s at the Aragon, they would set up temporary folding seats over the old ballroom floor, facing the stage. Nugent, Ramones(like you sat for that), Aldo Nova, Cheap Trick, Stray Cats, Rick “Elvis” Saucedo, etc.
I don’t know if they bother with any chairs at shows now.

So the load-in for a renovated Uptown beyond just bands again, would take some serious planning. Most likely as I had posted before, somehow incorporating the side street to the West, and possibly making an actual loading dock, out of what used to be an exit with a smaller marquee overhang as I remember.

mp775
mp775 on October 8, 2008 at 7:56 am

How is loading at the Riviera and Aragon? I’m sure those venues have hosted concert tours with elaborate sets, and both face similar loading constraints to the Uptown.

bruceanthony
bruceanthony on October 3, 2008 at 12:22 pm

Im sure the loading duck issue could be resolved when the theatre is operational and restored. The Uptown would not be booking Broadway shows, these are presented in the Loop. I hope the new owners will immediately stabilize the theatre to prevent any more damage. I would like to see more positive statements about the future use of the Uptown and its size which is perfect for todays touring musical acts. The huge Midland in Kansas City just reopened with the type of acts that could be booked into the Uptown booked by AEG. The huge Fox in Oakland will reopen in January booked by Another Planet again with the type of acts that could play the Uptown. I think there are enough Music acts to book both the Chicago and the Uptown since this is the 3rd largest market in the US behind only New York City and L.A. Even Detroit which is half the size of Chicago has restored the Fox,State,Opera House,Music Hall along with the Fisher which is being renovated and the Masonic Temple Theatre. The Uptown is the largest not restored theatre in the Country. I think the Uptown would have been restored much earlier if it hadn’t been for City Politics and some dubious owners. The restored Uptown would give a huge boost to the Uptown district and the City should spend money improving the infrastructure in the area such as parking,sidewalks and street lighting to fully realize the potential of the Uptown District.brucec

Jayne1955
Jayne1955 on October 1, 2008 at 3:44 pm

I still think they took the lift from the Nortown, because it was in better shape than anything else they had to work with, but I could be wrong.

timtrotter44
timtrotter44 on September 30, 2008 at 11:09 pm

The Barton Organ in Sally’s stage came from the old Montclair theater. It was sold to the owners by Catoe when the theatre was torn down.

Jayne1955
Jayne1955 on August 29, 2008 at 5:50 am

Yes. If you haven’t actually seen it, you don’t undestand the set up there. That’s not an insult. That’s a fact.

Fredrickr
Fredrickr on August 28, 2008 at 8:27 pm

While parking would be just one of many issues that the Uptown faces, the one that is probably the biggest is the the lack of dock space for the loading and unloading of shows. The stagehouse is parallel to Lawrence Ave, with only the sidewalk between the back wall of the theater and the street. Most traveling shows today travel with many, many semi trucks loaded with scenery, costumes etc. The street that runs behind the theater (N Magnolia) is just a residential side street and would be less than ideal to unload trucks on. And the parking lot behind, while it is fairly large, would be difficult to use during the winter months, imagine unloading “Phantom of the Opera” in a Chicago snowstorm and having to wheel everything across N Magnolia!

TeamUptown
TeamUptown on August 28, 2008 at 7:23 pm

Hurdle # 1
Jam is the official title holder of the Uptown Theater.

ron1screen
ron1screen on August 28, 2008 at 2:04 pm

I don’t know anything about Chicago but I can say that Parking in Seattle is no problem. There is street parking and there are garages all within walking distance of the Seattle Paramount. Maybe some deal will have to be reached with neighboring business to allow parking.

Jayne1955
Jayne1955 on August 26, 2008 at 7:12 am

Dr. Jazz! That was it! Thank you! I was really frustrated I couldn’t remember the name. I went there often. I know I’m getting senile, but I should have remembered that. My aunt owned the Montrose Food and Dairy store right across the street on Montrose, until a robber beat the hell out of her and left her for dead behind the counter. She recovered, but she was never the same. After that no one in the family ever went back to the neighborhood. Too many bad memories. My mom and I had to go into the store and clean up all the blood off of everything.

DavidZornig
DavidZornig on August 25, 2008 at 3:35 pm

P.S. I just did a Google search on Sally’s Stage, and the first wiki/answers.com page that came up, had a brief but thorough history of it.
It mentons the Barton theater organ, but didn’t name the Nortown. It did however mention the organist from the Hinsdale Theatre played it at Sallys.

The owner Joe Bortz also owned the two Dr. Jazz Ice Cream stores. One on Montrose & one in Evanston.(Down the street from the Coronet Theatre)

Maybe the CT administrator can put up the link here and/or on the Nortown page.

Jayne1955
Jayne1955 on August 25, 2008 at 8:19 am

Yes, I was thinking of Sally’s Stage. It had a collection of old carnival game machines, that you could play. I think some came from Riverview Amusement park. But I thought they just took the lift from the Nortown, and the organ came from someplace else. But I may not be remembering correctly. It was a long time ago. There was a similiar place on Montrose near Ashland, but I can’t remember the name of that, either.

I know a couple of local high schools (I think Mather for sure) used the Nortown for graduation ceremonies a couple of times. That was interesting. The Uptown could be used like that.

The Oriental has done well as a playhouse, Wicked especially has done well there, but you still have the parking problem if you try to do that at the Uptown. And Wicked is a good fit for the Oriental since the Oriental was built on the site of the Iroquois, which was the biggest theatre fire disaster I can remember, and the Oriental was supposedly haunted. That comes up every now and then on a slow news day, especially around Halloween.

DavidZornig
DavidZornig on August 24, 2008 at 8:42 pm

Wow, thanks Ron. That’s exactly the kind of conversion I was trying to describe. That’s great that it’s already been done within a vintage theatre elsewhere.
Maybe the new owners will hopefully read Cinema Treasures, and contact those involved who budgeted for and made the Paramount in Seattle happen.
I wonder what The Paramount’s parking scenario is.

Also, to Jayne1955, I reread some of the past posts. I seem to remember now that Sally’s Stage near Devon & Western was the restaurant the Nortown Theatre’s organ was taken to. It was directly across the street. And it’s showbiz theme would have been a natural. I think the organ was on the North wall of Sally’s Stage. I was there in the late `70’s. And they had banjo players and all kinds of stuff going on.
Kind of like Ed Debevics or Dick’s Last Resort. Thankfully without the attitude though.

ron1screen
ron1screen on August 24, 2008 at 8:04 pm

They may want to try to make the Uptown usable for large conventions like the Paramount in Seattle did. When the Paramount was restored they removed the original auditorium floor and installed a convertable floor that is slopped and has seats for theater use and then can be made flat for convention use. I don’t know how they convert it but have been told that it only takes a few hours to go from slopped floor with seats to a flat empty floor ready for tables or whatever the renter requires. 30 million was spent on the Paramount and it has run in the black every year. They also expanded the stage and do a lot of touring Broadway shows and concerts, as well as films and conventions. They are also a 501 3C. With a lot of imagination the Uptown can be brought back.

DavidZornig
DavidZornig on August 24, 2008 at 7:00 pm

Greetings. I too would love to see the Uptown restored to it’s original state first. As a theatre for films, stage plays & concerts you could sit at.

I was just speculating on how it would/could be profitable or even able to break even, with just nightly shows again. Other than big name entertainers, what could they do to keep it an active place and paying for itself on a daily basis.

I was trying to throw out generic examples of how to adapt the space so it could be used as often as possible.
Barring running matinee & evening performances of virtually everything, it might take a long time to reach the break even point. Especially if $35 million is spent before ever opening the doors. And that presumably being partially borrowed with it’s own interest, etc.

Some accounting firm will figure that one out. They’d probably start with something like: If it sold out every existing seat with 4300 people paying $100 a ticket, there’s $430,000 on a given night. Somebody please check my math, I failed everything past the 8th grade.

Now say they removed just the first floor seats(grrrr), and squeezed in more bodies for a concert, lets round it out to earning $500,000 per sold out show.
Including or excluding expensive VIP box seats or freebies or whatever, let’s just use the $500K as a super-generous nightly pull-in.
If they pay Sting, Cher or whoever $200,000 of that, or whatever the going rock star rate is, they’re left with $300K, which has to pay everyone else, the utilities, unions, and whatever’s left of that $35 million dollar renovation bill.

Since it’s not realistic that they could consistently have Sting’s or Cher’s on a nightly basis, or not always have sell outs with others, the intake would probably be erratic from show to show. And likely half or less than all of the above. So the down time would be critical.
Plus the United Center would be saying “Hey Cher, we can get you 35,000 more ticket buyers and parking for them.” So all the internal marketing would be new ground for promoters to convince or overpay name entertainers, to play the Uptown instead.
Though some veteran entertainers I would like to think would be willing to play for free or limited pay. Just to get the whole thing off the ground on the right note and for sentimental reasons.

Since regular nightly shows is more of ironically a Broadway thing, stage shows & musicals would be the next likely entertainment to consider on a part time basis. Shows that can maybe profit better after limited or lengthy runs. That’s assuming the seats are left in or removable at will. Pulling “Broadway In Chicago” into the mix might be an advantage.

Who knows? The accountants sure will have there hands full, and hopefully be able to pull it all off with flying colors.

P.S. There used to be a cool restaurant across from the Nortown called Sally’s Stage. It had an a very animated waitstaff on skates or something with a stage show during dinner. Big fun.

Jayne1955
Jayne1955 on August 24, 2008 at 4:24 pm

Make no mistake, I’d rather see it restored as it was. Make no mistake about that. If you have to divide the place up, as deep as it is, I’d prefer to see them save as much of the auditorium as possible, and block in the balcony space somehow. If it has to be done, I’d rather see the auditorium left as much alone as possible and a second floor space created where the balcony is. I’d love to have it restored as it was, but even I admit that might not be feasible. If I put a false wall at balcony level, I’d try to make it something that could later be removed, if anyone ever got the money to put it back.

When they first divided the Nortown, they just covered stuff up. You could sometimes see old lights that were still burning glowing through the partitions. I often wished it could be restored someday, but alas, it was not to be.

Broan
Broan on August 24, 2008 at 1:12 pm

The old Heilig-Meyers/Nelson Brothers at the corner was converted into 22 loft condos, the Annoyance Theater, Marigold Indian Restaurant, and Fat Cat Bar a couple years ago. They’re doing very well. The former storage loft building directly north of the Uptown and the cinder-block stores next to that could probably be incorporated, though. I have to imagine some more land acquisition is going to be needed, be it for stage expansion or more support space.

DavidZornig
DavidZornig on August 24, 2008 at 9:58 am

Theme conventions is a great example of mixed-use. Hypothetically, take something like the Rocky Horror convention, Comic-Con, Sci-Fi or whatever else. Those organizers would likely gladly pay dearly, to host their conventions in such a classic setting. But it wouldn’t have to be limited to the lobby.

Maybe when they restore the auditorium portion, depending on how drastic the pitch of the floor/seats is down to the stage, they could incorporate some type of removable floor sections just inside the auditorium from the lobby.

This would allow larger conventions
that require table space, to span out of the lobby and into the granduer of the auditorium. Then replace the floor sections & rear seats as the entertainment dictates from show to show. I always wondered why the Park West never ventured into this on a smaller scale. With their perfectly flat floor in front of the stage.

Or maybe the vacant furniture store to the North of the Uptown, could be outfitted as convention space. With the main entertainment of any given convention taking place in the theatre.
Then make a super sized Shake, Rattle & Read the anchor tenant, expanding all of his media to the soon to be added diverse foot traffic.

I hope all of the Uptown’s community embraces whatever plans & renovations are proposed. Fully understanding that it could mean upwards of an additional 5000 people to the neighborhood on a more regular basis.
This would be a huge boon to the area economy, and anything is worth the sacrifice to end decades of the Uptown’s non use. After all, it is obviously the area’s largest namesake landmark. And should be a proud achievement once it’s completed.

Jayne1955
Jayne1955 on August 23, 2008 at 8:32 pm

I’ve often wondered if those big old lobbies wouldn’t lend themselves to these theme conventions that draw so many fans. Can you imagine what it would have been like to have a LotR or Harry Potter convention in that big old castle? Or how trippy some anime fans would get with that big old barn to roam around in?

I remember working the concession stand for some of the concerts, and seeing all the people who were out of it just walking around going, “Wow, Man!” like Tommy Chong dong his 70’s show character.

You’ve got so much space in that place!

DavidZornig
DavidZornig on August 22, 2008 at 5:13 pm

Thanks to you all. My querys on the Alameda/Biltmore, Palacio/Sheridan & Sunset Drive In were all answered in record time. And thanks to BWChicago, I now fully understand the advanced search fields. It was clearly me, and not my archaic WebTV.

As long as I’m here, I’ll post my little tidbits of the Uptown. It was here I’m sure I saw ELO for the first time. Had to be 1973 or `74 because they’d opened for someone else. Possibly Zappa, and not yet themselves headliners. Though I’d think I would remember the latter.
The Uptown was an inspirational place, especially for the progressive rock folks. It gave “Roll Over Beethoven” a surreal quality in such opulant surroundings.

There was a multi-story, possibly city run, customer pay parking structure, just East of the “L” tracks behind the Firestone dealer. It entered & exited onto Broadway using long concrete ramps. This would have been a great asset now with JAM’s involvement, if it had not been torn down years ago. Maybe it could be rebuilt if still vacant. The parking of the various show’s semis, is an excellent point.
And really should be the first thing JAM looks at as far as what they can do on the same nights at both the Riv & Uptown. Never take a community for granted. And trucks belching smoke out 24/7, and the rolling of Anvil cases will get old quick. Even the Riv has used both sides of Lawrence in the past. The side street behind the Uptown would likely need to be reconfigured somehow. Part of the backstage converted to loading dock or something, a previous post suggested.
Maybe the vacant furniture store portion to the North, could be hollowed out as stage access. I worked at Fanning Cadillac at Foster & Broadway. The trucks that delivered our new cars came right down Broadway.

The price JAM & their partners reportedly paid seems like a both a bargain and a blessing.
Since JAM is an established Chicago entertainment company willing to take it on, maybe great things are ahead. The Riviera’s existing interior cosmetics are of slight concern, if that’s some kind of base line. But maybe there’s a bigger plan down the road.
Of course none of these places started out weathered, they just ended up that way. We were warned of the evils of Rock & Roll.
Surely any future work done at the Uptown would be gone over with a magnifying glass. I’m not implying that anyone would cut a corner. Just that it probably wouldn’t be possible.
And in theory, when it starts out looking nice again, like the Chicago Theatre, it will stay that way.

From a business point of view, owning such a massive piece of land 4-5 blocks from the lake and near transportation, is never a wrong move.
Saving as much of the original Uptown both as asthetically & as is fiscally possible, given asbestos and everything else they’ll encounter will be a monumental task.
The biggest culprits will likely be the roof, and years of limited or no heat during those many winters. It’s a given all plumbing & electrical will need replacing, even if you were to restore to it’s original use.
They’ll be heros no matter waht they try, after 27 years of dormancy.

Any conversion though that could possibly end up paying for itself over time, would likely have to include creating a multi-use venue with year round usability. Sadly that would likely mean somehow dividing the auditorium and it’s once touted “acre of seats”.
The massive span of the interior space can’t be financially profitable to do only nightly shows for one audience anymore. It why places like the Uptown closed in the first place.

It would likely take round the clock, United Center level performers like Elton John every day, to merely break even.
And that’s after all the renovation costs. More would have to be going on in a mixed use building on a daily basis just to pay the utilities in any economy.

Since JAM has been doing it so long, and knows the numbers their neighboring venues can pull in, they were probably the only realistic hope the Uptown had left. Barring a Trump like guy who just wants to see it happen. No group can stave off the city forever. And JAM at least has a working relationship with them.
And since it would be closer to no longer being an eyesore, or complained about to the city, they’d be receptive and workable on anything positive happening as we are.

One can only hope it can all be done realistically, tastefully and incorporate the rich Uptown area history. Green Mill, Uptown Bank building, etc.

Maybe they’ll be open to or solicit suggestions once there’s an outline of what’s realistic or not.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on August 22, 2008 at 11:30 am

Think the drive-in you speak of was the Sunset.

The Alameda is probably listed as the Biltmore.