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Inside The Congress Theater: Urban Archaeologist Finds 1926 Treasures

By Mina Bloom | January 20, 2017 6:02am | Updated on January 20, 2017 12:10pm
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LOGAN SQUARE — When Eric Nordstrom journeyed inside the historic Congress Theater, he found an assortment of old objects including newspapers, tools, half-smoked cigars and blueprints, which he said tell the story of the tradesmen who built the theater in 1926.

Ahead of the theater's long-awaited overhaul, the urban archaeologist went inside last week to hunt for old objects and other remnants of the past.

Many of the discarded newspapers he found were from the months leading up the theater's opening day on Sept. 5, 1926. He also found old hot dog wrappers, pipes, twine and tools.

"It was incredibly gratifying to find these forgotten things over 90 years later," Nordstrom wrote on his blog.

Nordstrom is the founder of Urban Remains, a West Town firm that recycles and re-sells objects from old buildings. He routinely ventures inside historic buildings to find forgotten objects. On at least a dozen occasions, he's found time capsules. This time, however, the objects were scattered.

Equally, if not more gratifying for Nordstrom was stumbling upon the theater's old elaborate switchboard, which he said was used to control the cove lighting throughout the auditorium.

"Multiple people would work the panel during a performance. The fact that the Congress Theater still had the original system intact was so unbelievably cool," he said in an email to DNAinfo.

The theater, 2135 N. Milwaukee Ave., closed when it lost its liquor license in 2013 due to various building and code violations and high-profile crimes that happened in and around the venue. Since then, community leaders have been pushing for it to be redeveloped.

Over the summer, the developer unveiled its latest proposal for the concert hall. The plan includes rehabbing the historic venue and building a 10-story residential tower on the lot across the street with 120 residential units and ground-floor commercial space. Plans also call for either 32 residential units in the old theater building or 50 hotel rooms in the theater.

The project was originally floated as a $55 million redevelopment plan.

Check out more photos below:

[All photos Courtesy/Eric Nordstrom]

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