Calumet 412 had the rare treat to take a private tour of the Uptown Theater last night. Unfortunately, photos were not allowed, so the pictures here are from cinematreasures.org.
First, I have to say,this was the most amazing interior that I have ever seen in not only Chicago, but any other city. These photographs do not give the detail, scale and size of the theater justice. At 46,000 square feet, it is by far the largest theater space in Chicago.
The other thing that I was impressed with was, despite some expected decay and a few places with slight structural damage, the theater is remarkably still intact.
Here are a few other takeaways from the 1.5 hours that we spent there:
1) Every inch of the theater is a decorative arts marvel. Too many things to cite here, but the ceilings alone deserve historical status.
2) Standing under the proscenium, I could not help but think of all those who had stood there before, looking out onto the almost 4,400 seat room. It’s massive - think of the Chicago Theater or the Aragon, neither of which can hold a candle to the size of the Uptown.
3) The structural integrity of the entire building is more than sound. Standing on the balcony here feels safer than the one at the Riv - those of you who have danced there know what I mean.
4) I was also impressed that there is no smell - one would expect it to reek of decay and mold. The current owners, JAM Productions, have done a great job keeping it as maintained as possible.
5) There are over 36,000 lights in the theater. All of the original chandeliers, sconces and light fixtures are currently in storage and will be restored.
6) The seats in the balcony are original from 1925.
7) The women’s lounge and bathroom is amazing. Looking into the room length mirror, I thought of the countless women who had stood before it.
8) Off the Lawrence St entrance there is a nursery. Women, who were in the neighborhood shopping, could check their bags and drop off their children here while they caught a matinee. This room probably held the most ghosts for me, as the original 1925 decorations are still on the walls.
9) JAM Productions is committed to restoring the theater to its ORIGINAL glory. Missing details will be reproduced and modern amenities will be created to look vintage.
10) Much of the theater will be featured in the opening sequence of the upcoming Transformers movie.
I could go on-and-on, but these were some of the highlights.
The good news is, restoration is CURRENTLY underway. Two-thirds of the renovation cost has been raised, with fundraisers scheduled next year for the remainder.
Restoration of this architectural marvel will be the catalyst for the revival of Uptown and its redevelopment as Chicago’s entertainment destination.