The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

Uptown Theatre One of Illinois' 'Most Endangered Historic Places'

 The Uptown Theatre, shuttered for decades, could finally be revitalized as part of a plan for a bolstered Uptown Entertainment District.
The Uptown Theatre, shuttered for decades, could finally be revitalized as part of a plan for a bolstered Uptown Entertainment District.
View Full Caption
DNAinfo/Adeshina Emmanuel

UPTOWN — Historic preservation group Landmarks Illinois listed the Uptown Theatre on its annual "Ten Most Endangered Historic Places" list, the building's fourth appearance on the list since 1996.

"The Uptown Theatre, one of the largest and grandest movie palaces in the country, stands empty and lacking a redevelopment plan. Closed since 1981, it has been vacant for almost 30 years," the group said on its website, noting that the theater at 4816 N. Broadway was also included on the endangered list in 1996, 2001 and 2010.

The ornate but deteriorated movie palace opened in 1925 and has been mentioned as vital to plans to bolster Uptown's entertainment district. The theatre spans 46,000 feet and includes about 4,400 seats. It was Designed by Rapp and Rapp, the architecture firm that designed the Chicago Theatre Downtown and the Riviera Theatre in Uptown, which has the same owner as the Uptown.

While Jerry Mickelson's JAM Productions bought the theater in 2008 for $3.2 million in addition to $1.8 million in liens, "the company has had difficulty securing the necessary financing to finalize renovation and redevelopment," Landmarks said. Mickelson was not reachable for comment Wednesday.

Landmarks Illinois President Bonnie McDonald told DNAinfo Chicago the purpose of listing the Uptown on the endangered list was to "call attention to the fact that there are needed repairs on the building."

The theater's troubles have landed it in city buildings court. Its deteriorated facade is "shrouded in scaffolding," and the building has had problems with water intrusion and water damage, according to Landmarks. 

McDonald emphasized that the theater's rebirth was key to plans put forth by the city and community leaders to make Uptown a booming destination for music and entertainment.

"It's a unique structure, one of the largest movie palaces ever built in the nation," she said.

The city completed about $1.2 million worth of facade repairs in 2008, McDonald said, "but now that five years has passed it really needs attention to make sure a potential revitalization can go forward."

Without proper maintenance, "it's not impossible to reuse the building" — but things could be a lot more costly once a plan is in place, McDonald said. Officials have already pegged the cost of restoration between $50-70 million.

"There's a great deal of optimism and we certainly think this opportunity to reuse the Uptown Theatre is a reality as long as the building can be continually maintained until the financial plan is in place," she said.

The city asked the owner of the theater to convert the building's oil heating system to a natural gas system, but didn't anticipate that the switch would begin in the winter. The building was left without heat and in January city inspectors said they discovered a giant icicle in the building's basement, and were worried about drainage pipes freezing.

Tressa Feher, chief of staff to Ald. James Cappleman (46th) wrote in an email Wednesday there "there is a redevelopment plan" for the theater, but would not elaborate.

Officials have said Federal Historic Tax Credits, tax increment financing and private dollars could fund the renovation, but no finance plan has been put forth.