WEST LOOP — After concerns that the Museum of Holography's collection could be lost forever, a benefactor has stepped forward to save the museum's galleries of wonder.
For more than 35 years, visitors came to the museum, 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.
Since then, the collection has been in danger of being sold off piecemeal or destroyed. If that happened, a piece of the Near West Side's holographic history, and Billings' story, would be gone forever, said Moshe Tamssot, a Block X condo resident who led the charge to save the shuttered museum's collection.
Moshe Tamssot, a West Loop resident, led the charge to save the shuttered museum's holograph collection. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]
Just before a new owner was set to take possession of the museum building in June, a benefactor stepped forward to save the collection, Tamssot said this week. The benefactor wishes to remain anonymous and has asked Tamssot not to disclose how much he paid for the collection.
The Chicago-based benefactor, a lifelong fan of holography, has agreed to keep the collection intact and "on permanent public display," said Tamssot, who is founder of MakeItFor.Us.
The benefactor bought the collection from Hayden Connor. Because the collection was never moved out of the former museum, Connor became the owner of the collection when he bought the building in 2012.
A sign marks the route to the now defunct Museum of Holography near Washington Boulevard and Racine Avenue. [Yelp]
A museum mystery
The museum itself, in its late years, was a mystery.
After the museum's decline, the hall of holograms that once attracted tourists and curious city folks alike was reduced to a pile of dusty machines and slides, crammed in a basement warehouse.
Machines and lasers used to process and display holographs remain in the shuttered Museum of Holography in the West Loop. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]
In 1974 with the help of her husband, holographer Loren Billings opened the museum at 1134 W. Washington St. in a then-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 U.S. Senate. 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 was 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.
The foyer of the shuttered Museum of Holography in the West Loop. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]
In 2012, Connor bought the former museum building for $1.6 million, according to records.
In June 2014, Connor sold the 18,000-square-foot building to Australian investor Shawn Uldridge of SuperWayne Corp. for $2.35 million. Uldridge plans to open a restaurant and bed and breakfast there in 2016.
Connor's lease on the building expired at the beginning of this month.
Originally built by the Free Methodist Publishing House, the building was occupied by the church from 1909 to 1935. The building was also formerly a casket factory, Tammsot said.
A new holography home
Although the collection is now safe, Tamssot and a group of volunteers will now spend the next few months clearing the building of items related to the museum.
It's a monumental task, as materials are scattered across the 18,000-square-foot building's four levels.
"We're looking for technology, anything that resembles a hologram," Tamssot said.
In December, Tamssot displayed 28 pieces from the museum's collection and has already found a few new holograms sifting through the decades of materials.
"We're confident we'll find more," he said.
Two holograms from the Museum of Holography collection were displayed at a fundraiser in December. [Alan Frohlichstein]
Once the holograms are recovered, Tamssot hopes to keep the collection in the West Loop, potentially in the building at 1140 W. Madison St.
While landmarking part of the West Loop will preserve the facades of historic buildings, it won't preserve the soul of the changing neighborhood, Tamssot said.
"This is the soul of the West Loop," Tamssot said, searching through the shuttered museum.
Loren Billings' calendar recorded the Museum of Holography's schedule. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]
A door in the basement of the Museum of Holography leads to a room where holographs were processed. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]
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