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Uptown Entertainment District: Former Vaudeville Theater Part of Plans

By Adeshina Emmanuel | August 14, 2013 11:05am
 1050 W. Wilson Ave.
1050 W. Wilson Ave.
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DNAinfo/Adeshina Emmanuel

UPTOWN — Plans to bolster the entertainment district in Uptown include transforming a former vaudevillian theater on West Wilson Avenue into a versatile arts and entertainment venue featuring a restaurant or bar rivaling the beloved Union Pizza/SPACE in suburban Evanston.

Cedar Street Co., the company behind booming Uptown real estate firm Flats Chicago, bought the three-story, 15,000-square-foot building at 1050 W. Wilson Ave., in February for $625,000 and renamed it FLATStheatre with plans of luring “a unique tenant that not only respects the grandeur of the space, but also adds value to the Uptown community."

The 104-year-old building was designed by architect Henry L. Ottenheimer. It opened in 1909 as the Wilson Avenue Theatre, one of the first big venues in the neighborhood. The building was converted to a bank building about a decade later, and was most recently a TCF Bank but has been vacant since 2011.

The theater was used as a performance venue in June as part of the Pivot Multi-Arts Festival, and there are art events planned there this fall — but the building owners have much bigger plans for the space.

Cedar co-founder Jay Michael, who also sits on an advisory council for Uptown United, Uptown's economic organization, said the goal is for the building to hold something that “would facilitate the arts, but also have a pedestrian use.”

“So not something only active a few nights a week,” Michael said. “Something like Union Pizza in Evanston, where the front is a pizza shop and the back is a theater.”

Michael said he is in conversations with potential tenants but so far hasn’t accepted any offers. The search could be complete any time in the “next couple months to a year,” Michael said, but he said there’s no definite timeline yet.

A lot of conversations about making Uptown an arts and entertainment juggernaut in Chicago center on the revitalization of the defunct Uptown Theatre, which would join the Riviera Theatre and Aragon Ballroom as anchors of the entertainment scene.

But smaller venues also have a role to play in Uptown when it comes to  a shift toward "the idea that the place itself is a destination," throughout the city, according to Alyssa Berman-Cutler, president and CEO of Uptown United.

Berman-Cutler referred to Michael as a "very engaged new landlord," who is "actively, aggressively seeking entertainment supportive tenants."

The theater at 1050 W. Wilson Ave., is just west of where Chicago's first Sonic Drive-In is planned, and just east of the Wilson Red Line station, which is due for a $203 million makeover.