Congress Theater

2135 N. Milwaukee Avenue,
Chicago, IL 60647

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Congress Theater

A mix of architectural styles (including Adam and Italian Baroque), this theater has an elaborate large domed auditorium and is covered with decorations in stone, terra-cotta, and plaster. It remains remarkably intact, down to the original light fixtures and marble wainscoting.

The Congress was built for the Lubliner & Trinz chain. On its opening day, September 5, 1926, there were parades, band concerts, and a bathing beauty contest. The first movie shown at the Congress Theater was “Rolling Home”, a Reginald Denny comedy, as well as five vaudeville acts. In November 1929, the Congress Theater was taken over by the Balaban & Katz chain.

In the 1970’s, the Congress Theater was renamed Teatro Azteca, and screened Spanish-language films. Movies continued to be shown through the 1980’s. By the 1990’s, the theater hosted live Latin acts, boxing matches, and an occasional film.

In 2000, the theater was threatened by demolition (for proposed condominiums), but the neighborhood rallied to the its defense. On July 10, 2002, the Congress Theater was declared a Chicago City Landmark.

This splendid survivor of the movie palace era functioned as one of Chicago’s grandest concert venues, and was closed for refurbishment in 2013. In January 2018 the Congress Theater was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 74 comments)

rso1000 on September 5, 2017 at 3:13 pm

In the photos section… This is the movie on the Marquee

BobbyS on September 5, 2017 at 9:06 pm

I am glad to hear it is going forward.. To me it seems the work has stopped….

DavidZornig on October 17, 2017 at 8:38 pm

Current article with pics.

LouRugani on June 12, 2018 at 5:37 pm

Congress Theater getting $69.2M renovation, including $9.6M city subsidy (Fran Spielman, Sun-Times)

The Congress Theater, in the 2100 block of North Milwaukee Avenue, has been shuttered since 2013. Owners of Logan Square’s shuttered but historic Congress Theater got the go-ahead Tuesday for a $69.2 million renovation that will restore live music to a nearly century-old building where Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis once played.

With help from a $9.6 million city subsidy, developer Michael Moyer hopes to host up to 125 live music shows-a-year at the renovated, 4,900-seat theater.

That would happen after his investment group completes a redevelopment plan at the venue, 2135 N. Milwaukee, that includes a 30-room boutique hotel, 16,000 square-feet of ground floor retail and restoration of 14 now-vacant apartments that will remain affordable after the renovation.

The project also includes a 100-unit residential building adjacent to the Congress Theater with at least 30 percent of the units earmarked for affordable housing.

The plan unanimously approved by the Community Development Commission calls for the long-awaited project to be financed, in part, by a $9.6 million subsidy generated by the surrounding Fullerton-Milwaukee tax-increment-financing (TIF) district. Another $800,000 TIF subsidy will be earmarked for the residential building.

The Congress was built in 1926 — in the Classical Revival and Italian Renaissance style — and originally operated as an ornate movie theater.

Moyer served as managing member of PalMet Venture LLC, which was established to redevelop the $120 million historic mixed-use block adjacent to City Hall that included the renovation of the Cadillac Palace theater and the Hotel Allegro.

Tuesday’s vote marked a major turnaround for the Logan Square theater where Berry and Lewis once strutted their stuff.

Built during the 1920’s, the Congress was designated in 2002 as a Chicago landmark and more recently earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

In April 2013, the city threw the book at the Congress Theater after the latest in a string of failed inspections.

The city’s lengthy motion detailed 26 violations at the theater, including a faulty electrical system, bare electrical cable wires strewn throughout the basement and defective lights.

“Based on the dangerous and hazardous nature of the building code violations, it is clear that the Congress Theater is a public nuisance and the continued operation of the business poses a continued harm to the occupants and the public,” the city’s motion said.

The theater’s ventilation system and a fire curtain tailor-made to prevent a fire from spreading were City Hall’s biggest concerns, but subsequently passed a city inspection.

That prompted a court order reducing occupancy on the theater’s first floor from 4,500 to 3000, and requiring then-owner Eddie Carranza to staff each event with two fire guards to help with overcrowding and guide concertgoers in case of a fire.

Concertgoers were further ordered to remain on the first floor of the theater because the second floor remained closed while staff worked to fix a backup generator.

The theater also agreed to have two fire guards and one stage fire guard at all shows to ensure safety and to guide concertgoers in case of an emergency, according to the order.

Five weeks later, the embattled Congress Theater was stripped of its liquor and business licenses.

It happened after a city hearing officer found the theater violated city codes “because within 12 consecutive months 5 separate incidents occurred on the licensed premises while the establishment was open for business involving acts that violated a state law regulating narcotics or controlled substances.”

In four disciplinary hearings, the city detailed alleged drug-related incidents and other alleged violations at the popular music venue in Logan Square.

They included allegations that staffers failed to call 911 to report a large fight during a Chief Keef rap concert in April 2012 and didn’t cooperate with police when seven underage concertgoers were let into a concert.

Carranza promised to appeal, but told the Chicago Sun-Times in a text message, “I don’t have the resources and money the city has to keep going on with court hearings.”

“We built a very strong music brand and revived a forgotten theater building. There will be plenty of buyers and operators interested in [taking] over our business,” Carranza wrote.

Carranza suggested then that he was being forced to sell. “The liquor commissioner sent a clear message he has some personal issue with me operating my theater,” he wrote.

The theater closed later that year and has been shuttered ever since.

BobbyS on June 12, 2018 at 9:35 pm

If only The Uptown Theater a few miles away got the same great news from the city. I am afraid it never will. That is the sad news here. Bravo to the Congress!!

DavidZornig on July 6, 2018 at 9:54 am

BobbyS, hop on over the Uptown’s page. Great news awaits…

In the meantime, here’s a current WBEZ piece on the Congress.

BobbyS on July 6, 2018 at 8:33 pm

I heard all about the Uptown and couldn’t be more thrilled..What amazes me so many people think it had clouds & stars in the ceiling… They are confused.

DavidZornig on September 24, 2018 at 3:43 pm

Congress development related article.

Trolleyguy on February 27, 2020 at 11:30 am

An update on that last story is not very positive:

DavidZornig on September 1, 2020 at 1:54 pm

Another update that is not very positive…

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