UPTOWN — In past lives, the three-story building that spans from 931-939 W. Wilson Ave. has contained a car dealership, a Prohibition-era speakeasy and a strip club described as "The Sodom of Uptown Chicago."
Monday, the opening of Everybody's Coffee at 935 W. Wilson Ave. was another step toward the building's rebirth as Wilson Abbey — a "neighborhood center," concert venue and performance arts space run by Christian commune Jesus People USA.
The owners of Everybody's Coffee, which sells fair trade coffee from around the world, said the cafe will be a centerpiece for Wilson Abbey, and will host art exhibitions, concerts, meetings and events.
"What we have here is the coffee shop, a couple venues, there's a large auditorium, there's a small blackbox theater space, and then [on the second floor] we're renting out spaces," Jesus People member Carl Sullivan said, adding that the auditorium can hold about 500 people.
Though the commune is still courting musical acts, artists and theater groups to help fill the space, they expect Wilson Abbey to be in full swing in the next two to three months.
Jesus People was founded in 1972 and is one of the last vestiges of the Jesus Movement — evangelized hippies who embraced Christ, urban missionary work and communal life. About 400 people live at 920 W. Wilson Ave, the main residence for the community which holds a common bank account, and runs several local businesses and social service agencies.
An extensive rehab of the Wilson Abbey building, which was structured more like a warehouse, began about two years ago. The commune has previously used it as a place of worship and office space.
Sullivan declined to give DNAinfo Chicago an exact figure for how much the rehab cost, but said the cost of the project has been "in the millions."
Nicole Fischer, 24 has been helping organize the art gallery component at Everybody's Coffee and is confident the coffee shop and gallery will be a hit in Uptown.
Rehak's photos of Uptown have gone viral since hitting the web last summer and helped him land a book deal with a local publisher.
"His work is so significant to this area, and we wanted to show that," Fischer said.
On Feb. 14, Everybody's Coffee will kick off an exhibition featuring paintings and prints from Janet Cameron, an artist from the Jesus People community. The Cameron exhibit runs through April 5.
The Wilson Abbey building was built in 1917 and designed by brothers Cornelius W. Rapp and George Leslie Rapp, who also designed the Riviera Theatre and the long-closed Uptown Theatre. Both venues are considered important parts of a push to create a booming entertainment district in Uptown. Jesus People believe their cafe and neighborhood center is another part of the equation.
"At the vanguard of this revitalization is Wilson Abbey," they said in a statement.