On November 13, 2018, the Chicago City Council Department of Planning and Development voted to approve the $75 million rehabilitation of the long-vacant Uptown Theatre. After decades of false starts and unfulfilled promises, this marks an important and tangible step forward for the restoration of this magnificent building.
37 years ago, the Uptown Theatre hosted its last concert on Dec. 19, 1981 before being closed due to water damage from frozen pipes. The effort to save this outstanding building from demolition has been long and arduous, but the preservation community never gave up on the dream of one day seeing the Uptown Theatre restored. In 1991 after a decade of advocacy, the Chicago preservation community succeeded in having the Uptown Theatre designated a Chicago Landmark. No one at the time could have guessed that the building would remain shuttered for nearly 30 more years!
Most recently, Friends of the Uptown and Preservation Chicago sponsored an online petition to encourage the restoration of the Uptown Theatre that generated 10,778 signatures before it was closed having achieved its goal of catalyzing the building’s restoration. Construction work is expected to begin in August 2019 with a grand reopening scheduled for early 2021.
As Blair Kamin wrote in his Chicago Tribune column, “local preservation groups — Landmarks Illinois, Preservation Chicago and Friends of the Uptown — and the Washington, D.C.-based National Trust for Historic Preservation, which in 1996 put the Uptown on its list of the nation’s most endangered places, deserve credit for the tenacity they exhibited in fighting for what many assumed was a lost cause. City officials also get kudos for laying the infrastructure groundwork that could help a renovated Uptown succeed.” (Kamin, Chicago Tribune, 6/29/18)
“The Uptown Theatre is one of the greatest theaters in America, and it’s the premier property in Uptown. Its restoration will be expensive but the theater is a treasure that must be saved,” said Jam co-founder Jerry Mickelson. “Assistance from all levels of government — local, state, and federal — is necessary to get this project over the finish line. Future generations will not forgive those who do not save this magnificent palace, because a venue like the Uptown Theatre will never be built again.” (Chicago DPD, 11/20/18)
“It’s been more than 35 years since the theater closed to the public, which makes this the most anticipated restoration project in the City’s history,” said DPD Commissioner David L. Reifman. “The Uptown is the last and largest movie palace in the United States that hasn’t been demolished or restored and its re-opening is going to be recognized by preservationists, entertainment entities, cultural organizations and cities around the world.” (Chicago DPD, 11/20/18)
Preservation Chicago wishes to acknowledge the owners, Jerry Mickelson of JAM and Farpoint, 46 th Ward Alderman James Cappleman, Chicago Department of Planning and Development, Commissioner David Reifman, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Andy Pierce, Friends of the Uptown Theatre, and all of the Chicagoans who have advocated for nearly 40 years to reopen the Uptown Theatre. Kudos to former Alderman Mary Ann Smith who deserves special recognition and thanks for her efforts.