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Old Police Station Becomes 'Story of Redemption' As New Children's Theatre

By Stephanie Lulay | January 18, 2017 8:21am
 West Loop and Chicago Children's Theatre leaders officially opened the theater's new home
West Loop and Chicago Children's Theatre leaders officially opened the theater's new home "The Station" at 100 S. Racine Ave. with a ribbon cutting Tuesday.
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DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay

WEST LOOP — What was once a neighborhood police station is now a place that "amplifies hope" for kids. 

City leaders, including Chicago's First Lady Amy Rule and Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) joined arts advocates to officially open "The Station," the Chicago Children's Theatre's new home at 100 S. Racine Ave., in the West Loop Tuesday. 

Frank Maugeri, community programs artistic director at Chicago Children's Theatre, remembered when he first heard theater founders wanted to turn the former police station into a creative home for Chicago's children. 

"I almost immediately thought, 'I'm in,' mostly because that message is absolutely undeniable," Maugeri said. "To take a place that was once about literally imprisoning ideas and expression and turning it into the exact opposite is such a powerful statement for young children." 

Maugeri said the building's transformation — from cop shop to a place that fosters creativity in kids — is a "story of redemption."  

RELATED: Skinner West Kids Play Starring Role In Chicago Children's Theatre Debut

During the first phase of renovations, crews have added five classrooms, a dedicated, year-round space for Red Kite interactive theater for students with autism, a lobby with box office and concessions, the flexible, 149-seat Pritzker Family Studio Theatre and support space in the building.

The Pritzker theater was built in an old cell block and the "Red Kite" theater was built in the judge's former chambers in the old police station. An old shooting range in the former police station now houses Chicago Children's Theatre costumes and props. 

The new 149-seat Pritzker Family Studio Theatre at Chicago Children's Theatre's new home "The Station" in the West Loop. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]

The Chicago Children's Theatre new home "The Station" officially opened in the West Loop this week. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]

An old shooting range in the former police station now houses Chicago Children's Theatre costumes and props. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]

Left: A photo shows what a hallway at the vacant 12th District Police Station formerly looked like. Right: In a nod to the past, the new Chicago Children's Theatre features a photo of police officers who used to work at the station. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]

A second phase of construction will see a state-of-the-art, 299-seat mainstage theater developed on site. The second phase is expected to be completed in 2021.

A rendering shows what the Chicago Children's Theatre's planned 299-seat mainstage theater will look like. [Chicago Children's Theatre]

In the interim, the children's theater will continue to present its productions at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts at 1016 N. Dearborn St. in the Gold Coast. 

Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) said there was some "rub" in the West Loop because there was so much interest to redevelop the former police station. 

"Everyone wanted this building. From developers, the residents wanted a park facility, Skinner School wanted another building to expand," Burnett remembered.

At the time, both the Mayor's office and Governor's office urged him to support the children's theater use. After meeting with Jacqueline Russell, theater co-founder and artistic director, Burnett said he knew the theater was the right fit for the space. 

"At that time, I knew I was going to go with it no matter what," Burnett said. "They just really have gotten involved in this neighborhood and become part of this family. 

Russell said the new West Loop headquarters would give the children's theater a real home for the first time. The theater works with more than 100 Chicago schools, and has a special commitment to serving children on the autism spectrum, she said.

"The Station gives us new freedom to work with exciting, internationally-recognized companies like Manual Cinema, who are producing inventive, intimate new works like Magic City, which will resonate with audiences of any age," she said. 

The public is invited to a free open house at the new performing arts and education hub from 3-5 p.m. Sunday.

On Feb. 6 at The Station, the Chicago Children's Theatre will launch classes and camps for kids up to 14. 

The redevelopment project was designed by Wheeler Kearns Architects and Working Group One Architects with heater planning is by Schuler Shook. Pepper Construction is the general contractor.

The Chicago Children's Theatre first announced plans to move into the former Near West District police station in August 2014.

Kids play at the new Chicago Children's Theatre in the West Loop Tuesday. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]

Opening production 

Chicago Children's Theatre's first production in its new home The Station will debut Jan. 27. 

Magic City, created by Chicago's internationally acclaimed shadow puppet theater Manual Cinema, will open The Station's new 149-seat Pritzker Family Studio Theatre. 

The all-ages, family-friendly show, loosely adapted from Edith Nesbit's 1910 novel The Magic City, uses overhead projectors, paper shadow puppets, live actors in silhouette, miniature toy theater and live musical accompaniment to bring Nesbit's novel to life.

Performances are Jan. 27-Feb. 19 and tickets, priced at $25, can be purchased online or by calling 872-222-9555. 

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