Uptown Theater

4816 North Broadway,
Chicago, IL 60640

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spectrum
spectrum on November 12, 2008 at 1:20 pm

Haven’t seen URL’s posted for these two great photo galleries on flickr:

The first has 51 photos posted in August 2007 and June 2008, about a third exterior, 2/3 interior shots.

View link

The second has six interior shots from 2007:

View link

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:

View link

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!