CITY HALL — The festive if well-worn summertime Theater on the Lake at Fullerton Avenue and Lake Shore Drive will get a restaurant and an overall renovation making it a year-round venue, if all goes according to plan with the city and the Park District.
"Showcasing spectacular views of Lake Michigan, Theater on the Lake is a community treasure that has entertained Chicago residents and visitors for more than six decades," said Mayor Rahm Emanuel in a statement. "Upgrading and renovating this venue will enable the theater to be a cultural and entertainment destination all year long."
The Park District is expected to put out a request for proposals next month looking to overhaul and winterize the building to allow for a 400-seat performance space, along with new dressing rooms, restrooms, outdoor seating and a restaurant. The renovation will coincide with a Fullerton Avenue Beach shoreline-protection project overseen by the Army Corps of Engineers, which is expected to make the theater more accessible in winter and summer.
"The Chicago Park District is committed to bringing theater and culture into our parks and neighborhoods," said Supt. Mike Kelly. "Renovations to Theater on the Lake will allow us to expand programming beyond the traditional summer season and attract more audiences."
In the past, Theater on the Lake has primarily been a summertime venue, typically running through a Halloween haunted house. But the exposed location at the east end of Fullerton, right on the lakefront, discouraged winter use.
It was designed 100 years ago by Dwight Perkins, who also did the Lincoln Park Zoo Lion House and Cafe Brauer, as well as the North Pond Cafe building. it opened in 1920 as a sanitarium for babies with tuberculosis and other diseases under the direction of the Chicago Daily News Fresh Air Fund. Closed as a sanitarium in 1939, it played host to USO events during World War II and barn dances afterward until it was redesigned by the Park District as a theater in 1953. It has welcomed seasonal performances ever since, although the number of performances tended to ebb and flow over the years and decades before the city rededicated resources to it in the mid-'90s.
It's hoped construction will begin early next year, to be completed by the end of 2015. Performances usually set for Theater on the Lake will be relocated in the interim.