WEST LOOP — For the past few years, the hall of holographs that once attracted tourists and curious city folks alike has been reduced to a pile of dusty machines and slides, crammed in a basement warehouse.
But one West Loop man is trying to change that.
For more than 35 years, visitors came to see Museum of Holography's four galleries of wonder at 1134 W. Washington St., squinting their eyes at holograms as images of Mike Ditka, Michael Jordan and Medusa shifted between scenes. But financial problems that made headlines and founder Loren Billings' ailing health closed the museum around 2009.
Now Moshe Tamssot, a Block X condo resident and founder of MakeItFor.Us is leading the charge to save the shuttered museum's collection.
To raise awareness about the hidden holographs, Tamssot has arranged with the collection's current owner to show items from the museum in a one-night-only exhibit from 6-10 p.m. Thursday at 1108 W. Madison St.
Event registration is now closed after hundreds pledged to attend, but Tamssot urged holography fans to sign up for the event's waitlist.
"This may be the last time anything from the museum will ever be seen here in Chicago," he said Tuesday.
Ed Wesly, a holography expert and former museum employee, is expected to give a demonstration at the event.
Tamssot first visited Chicago's Museum of Holography 21 years ago. Over the years, he'd take friends to visit. Sometimes tourists would make it in to see the collection, but just as often, no one would come to answer the door.
The museum itself, in its late years, was a mystery.
"I didn't know the drama that was happening," he said.
Who owns the collection?
In 1974 with the help of her husband, holographer Loren Billings opened the Museum of Holography at 1134 W. Washington St. in a sketchy stretch of the Near West Side.
For years, it was a destination. Visitors flocked to see the shark that darted out of darkness and Mike Royko's signature wry smile, revolving in capsules. Even Michael Jackson visited the museum in 1988.
Billings' husband, Robert Billings, a veteran city reporter, died in 1998. In 2002, at the age of 83, Billings took out a $1 million loan from Broadway Bank and gave most of it away. When her son Terrence Kasprzak discovered what she'd done, he sued the bank in 2006, claiming that his mother was unfit to understand the financial jeopardy it put her in.
The suit made headlines because Broadway Bank, the bank that made the loan, was owned by the family of Alexi Giannoulias, who in 2007 would begin his one term as state treasurer and go on to make an unsuccessful run for Congress. Back in 2002, Giannoulias was the bank officer who approved the loan to Billings.
The Chicago Reader chronicled the museum's downfall and its last days in a 2009 story. By then, Billings was suffering from dementia and upside down on the loan.
Sometime after, the museum closed. But visitors didn't notice all at once -- Yelp reviews and YouTube videos show people trying to visit the museum through 2012.
But what happened after the museum closed?
In 2012, Hayden Connor purchased the former museum building at 1134 W. Washington St. for $1.6 million, according to records. When Connor bought the building, the museum collection was still located there, and he is the current owner of the holograph collection.
Connor, who owned World Music Co., used the 18,000-square-foot building as an office and sheet music storage facility, according to an old real estate listing.
In June, Connor sold the building to Australian investor Shawn Uldridge of SuperWayne Corp. for $2.35 million. The building is one block from Harpo Studios.
Uldridge plans to open a bed and breakfast there in 2016.
Connor, the former owner, has a one-year lease with Uldridge that expires at the end of June 2015, at which time Connor is expected to vacate the building and remove the collection. On Tuesday, Uldridge said that a "significant amount" of slides and equipment from the museum remain at the building.
Kasprzak, Billings' son, could not be reached Tuesday.
Originally built by the Free Methodist Publishing House, the building was occupied by the church from 1909 to 1935.
Connor, the collection's owner, has agreed to loan some of the collection to Tamssot for Thursday night's one-night event, and a crew of volunteers will pick up the items Wednesday afternoon. They will then race to organize the exhibit in about 30 hours, he said.
Tamssot's most recent trip to the building was captured in a YouTube video.
When asked about his plans for the collection, Connor declined to comment Tuesday evening.
Tamssot said that he isn't looking for money or to own the collection himself - his only goal is to see the museum's holograph collection stay together.
"My hope is to find an interested buyer, introduce them to the current owner, and have them come up with their own offer," he said.
The collection would be a "perfect fit" for the under-development Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, where he imagines it being displayed in close proximity to "the most famous" 1977 hologram of Princess Leia from Star Wars, Tamssot said. He has also been in contact with the Museum of Science of Industry and the Adler Planetarium.
Regardless of where the collection ends up, Tamssot said he wants to make sure Billings' efforts in curating the collection are recognized.
"Loren Billings' story deserves a better ending," Tamssot said.
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