Uptown Theatre

4816 N. Broadway,
Chicago, IL 60640

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Uptown theatre

One of the last great movie palaces in Chicago, this fabulous theatre was built by Balaban & Katz Corp. in the Uptown neighborhood, north of Chicago in 1925. The Uptown Theatre was the largest movie palace in Chicago, larger than any in the entertainment hub within the Chicago downtown known as ‘The Loop’, and according to the Theatre Historical Society of America list, was the 12th largest movie palaces ever built in the U.S.A. It was opened August 18, 1925 with the world premiere of First National Pictures “The Lady Who Lied” with Lewis Stone and Virginia Valli plus a Balaban & Katz stage presentaion “Under Spanish Skies”. At opening the orchestra pit housed a 60-person orchestra and the theatre was equipped with a Wurlitzer Grande 4 manual 20 rank theatre organ with was opened by noted organist Jesse Crawford.

Changing times and the shift in population have not helped the Uptown Theatre and although it was a destination for moviegoers for several decades, it was closed December 19, 1981 with a concert by the J. Geils Band. In 1991 it was designated a Chicago Landmark. Unfortunately, the Uptown Theatre has succumbed to water damage, vandalism and the wear and tear of time. Every year its exterior stands stoically facing the cold winter while its interior slowly erodes.

The Uptown Theatre had become one of the last truly great movie palaces without a certain future. Preservationists and movie theatre enthusiasts enthused that the Uptown Theatre “must be saved before it is too late”. In 2014 the building was purchased by JAM Productions for $3.2 million. On June 29, 2018 it was announced that $75 million had been granted to restore the theatre, and it was approved by the Chicago Community Development Commission on November 13, 2018. Restoration work will begin in August 2019 with a completion planned for early-2021.

Recent comments (view all 488 comments)

LouRugani
LouRugani on November 28, 2018 at 8:03 pm

Chicago’s Community Development Commission members (appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel) approved the public financing elements for partners Jam Productions and Farpoint Development and the $1.00 sale of a 31,000-square-foot city-owned parking lot at 1130 W. Lawrence Avenue one-half block south and a half-block east of the theatre. The lead architects will be Lamar Johnson Collaborative (founded by Lamar and Lisa Johnson); theatre consultant Schuler Shook (PALACE, St. Paul. and KINGS, Brooklyn); MacRostie Historic Advisors, tax-credit specialists; Forefront Structural Engineers; Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, façade restoration; WMA Consulting Engineers, mechanicals; and Conrad Schmitt Studios. Reportedly the $75 million restoration includes $13 million in tax increment financing (TIF) assistance, $14 million in property-assessed clean-energy financing, $3 million in Adopt-a-Landmark funding, with the rest from investments by Farpoint and Jam and from a commercial bank loan. There’ll be new elevators and concession areas and seating for about 4,100 but with some removable seats on the Orchestra Floor to permit up to 5,800 including standees. The UPTOWN’s last event was a concert by the J. Geils Band on December 19, 1981. Expectations are for 200 short-term construction jobs and 200 long-term positions at its reopening.

Scott
Scott on November 29, 2018 at 7:29 am

David Zornig – you may be correct about the photo, but if that view is looking west, I don’t see how the Green Mill could be on the left. That would be where the auditorium currently sits. Perhaps the Green Mill is at the lower left, mostly out of camera view? Whatever is casting a shadow on the Uptown’s lobby wall in the 1925 photo is much closer to Broadway than is the chimney in the construction photo. Okay, maybe I’m over-analyzing this.

DavidZornig
DavidZornig on November 29, 2018 at 3:51 pm

I’m not sure though, since the Uptown Update link says it is the back of the Green Mill. It could be after the demolition of the gardens that were behind it before the Uptown was built.

The shadow I referenced was apparently cast from a chimney across the street, if you compare the two photos below.

The 1st is from Summer 1925 before construction is completed. The 2nd is from 1926 and after the marquees on both Broadway & Lawrence are completed. The shadows are cast longer in the second photo, as evidenced on Lawrence as well.

http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/69/photos/193200

http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/69/photos/241145

Scott
Scott on November 30, 2018 at 11:30 am

It’s still a mystery to me. Nevertheless, an interesting photo.

BobbyS
BobbyS on December 1, 2018 at 8:05 pm

Hi Scott!!! I can hardly wait for the summer of 2019 to witness the beginning of the re-birth of the Uptown Theater. I will only see it from the outside. The removal and installing the new marquee and blade signage should be thrilling just by itself. I hope they will show a special movie sometime and really show this masterpiece off to people that used to patronize this movie palace!

Scott
Scott on December 2, 2018 at 3:35 pm

Yes Bobby, it should be exciting. Seems like a million years ago when I saw a movie there in the mid-60s. Only went there once when it was a movie theatre. At that time it was still in pretty good shape, still had most of its artwork and furnishings. I guess its history is similar to that of the Kings in Brooklyn, though I don’t believe the Kings had a run as a concern venue as did the Uptown. With respect to the North Side houses, as much as I love the Uptown, I was more taken with the Belmont. Went there once in the late 50s or early 60s. I thought that place was magical, and fun to roam around in. The North Side had some incredible venues.

BobbyS
BobbyS on December 2, 2018 at 11:07 pm

The Belmont was just as you say it was… My favorite was the Granada because it reminded me of my much loved Marbro on the west side.

Scott
Scott on December 3, 2018 at 3:23 pm

The Marbro was incredible indeed. The demise of its near-twin, the Granada, was particularly tragic, because that theater could have succeeded. It was in a good location (I thought) and was in decent condition before they purposely let it fall into ruin. Very similar to what happened in St. Louis to the Ambassador. Fortunately, the Uptown survived, or has to this point at least. I’m sure that its relatively high demolition cost helped fend off development.

BobbyS
BobbyS on December 10, 2018 at 4:39 pm

I know this is the Uptown site and we all love the Uptown and looking forward to the grand re-opening. This is for Scott: Can you just imagine if the Granada Theatre had the same fate. Can you imagine a restored original waterfall marquee & blade sign with LED lighting up the facade. It almost happened. Lou Wolf paid $200,000 to Plitt for the building only. New carpets for inner lobby & main floor. Re-covered main floor seats and a new bright red stage curtain. I saw it all.. It was the refusal for getting a liquor license approved that doomed the project. Something that all venues have today with multiple bars in place needed for the cash registers. That was a major loss for movie palace lovers!

Scott
Scott on December 14, 2018 at 12:33 pm

That is interesting Bobby. I wasn’t aware that a liquor license was involved. I walked by the Granada one Saturday afternoon in 1985 or 1986 and saw that one of the front doors was partially open, with a large hose running out of the building into the street. It was draining water out from somewhere in the theater. I tentatively went inside and looked around, expecting to get yelled at by someone for being in there. But I never saw anyone. I just walked around all over the first floor, not venturing up to the second level. It was spooky being in there, but it was really an amazing experience. The Granada was very much like the Marbro, and just as irreplaceable. I’m grateful this isn’t happening to the Uptown. I toured the Uptown in the late 80s with a THS group, and there was very little lighting once you got past the main lobby. That also got pretty spooky when we got to the upper levels.

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