Uptown Theatre

4816 North Broadway,
Chicago, IL 60640

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Uptown Theatre

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One of the last great movie palaces in Chicago, this fabulous theatre was built in the Uptown neighborhood in the 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. At opening the orchestra pit housed a 60-person orchestra and the theatre was equipped with a Wurlitzer 4 manual 20 rank theatre organ.

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. Additionally, 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 is one of the last truly great theatres without a certain future. The Uptown Theatre must be saved before it is too late. In 2014 the building was owned by JAM Productions.

Recent comments (view all 461 comments)

stantheman2016 on February 15, 2016 at 8:36 am

The Uptown Theater on Broadway Avenue has been closed since 1981. I’m sick of looking at it. Restore it to its former greatness or knock it down already. Right now its just a tax write off.

Scott on April 5, 2016 at 4:32 pm

No doubt JAM has tax deductible expenses associated with the Uptown, but it doesn’t make sense to keep a property like this just to have deductible expenses. It’s better not to have the expense in the first place. I have questioned JAM’s intentions with the Uptown since they won the bid to purchase the theatre in 2008.

BobbyS on April 5, 2016 at 10:47 pm

Hi Scott! I really believe they thought the City of Chicago would kick in and pledge the $$$$$$$ since they have a favorite son in Washington. Eight years later, Chicago is as broke as a church mouse!

Scott on April 6, 2016 at 9:55 am

Hi Bobby. I suspect you’re right about JAM expecting government assistance from a combination of city, state, or federal programs. I also suspect, though I have nothing to back it up, that JAM wanted the Uptown to keep other players, such as Livent, from getting a major foothold in the Uptown neighborhood. A restored Uptown Theatre could divert some shows away from JAM’s Aragon Ballroom and Riviera Theatre, which would threaten their viability.

DavidZornig on April 6, 2016 at 3:21 pm

As I recall, when JAM first obtained ownership, they were the only ones who had showed up at the sale. The city later wanted JAM to partner with Live Nation on the Uptown, who the city was already in bed with at the former Charter One Pavilion I think. Partnering with Live Nation would never happen according to JAM at the time. There are details of it and the reasons why, buried in the comments dating back to 2008 or `09. I recall an article mentioning an old, leaked Live Nation e-mail that said “Kill, crush, destroy JAM. (Which still comes up on Google) I also recall that back then the Uptown needed an estimated 30 million in asbestos removal. Live Nation once had ownership of a much smaller theatre/venue in Nashville I think, that also had a recording studio in it. And they couldn’t even keep that open. So their input likely would not have been of any importance to JAM, even if they had partnered. As JAM has successfully owned and ran the Riviera for decades. I believe they only manage the Aragon. Discussed in previous threads too, was the types of shows that would need to run almost constantly after reopening, to break even on the huge cost of all the needed renovations. And mainly music shows at that, since road shows of say Broadway In Chicago would likely not have adequate load-in. Or the ability to sell 4000+ seats regularly. In my opinion converting to digital projection so films could again be run on off nights, might pick up the slack. Larger music acts would likely opt for the United Center to guarantee a larger payout.

Scott on April 6, 2016 at 4:57 pm

David, I believe you’re correct about JAM being the only one at the sale. However, at the time I was thinking that their interest was really in controlling the property, rather than spearheading a renovation. I am probably wrong about that, but it is curious nothing has happened with the theatre since. I realize there are a myriad of hurdles standing in the way of re-development, none of which are JAM’s fault. The Uptown Theatre is an incredible building with a multitude of factors working against it.

BobbyS on April 6, 2016 at 9:37 pm

Without money coming in on a regular basis, these places cannot exist…all the movies and music acts mentioned above. Just heard the Rialto Theatre in Joliet is closing this month. The city is withholding their share and of course the state still owes them a grant from last year. Two events planned in April demanded their money in advance. Vendors from previous shows have not be paid in months. I wonder how the King’s in NY is doing and if they are filling up the seats?

LuisV on April 7, 2016 at 4:34 am

I think the Kings is doing well. They just celebrated their first year!

Scott on April 8, 2016 at 3:46 pm

I didn’t realize the Rialto Square Theatre relied, in part, on tax revenue. I love the place but I don’t see why the government should be funding the operation of a theatre. I know many theatres are owned and operated by municipalities, but I assumed they were largely, or completely, self-sustaining.

BobbyS on April 10, 2016 at 1:27 pm

The doors of the Rialto would not open without tax money. City council gives the theatre $600,000 quarterly. No idea how much the state gives yearly. Buts it’s plenty I bet. The events booked are one nighters with shows that travel the nation from city to city. Yes they do alot of weddings, but expenses are high. Probably the same for the Genesse theater in Waukegan, IL which changed hands many times since it was restored. Can you imagine how much the Uptown would have to make to fill all those seats and to make a profit and pay all of the bills & taxes to the city of Chicago. These palaces were built with the idea of filling seats three or four times daily!

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