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Preservationists: The Uptown Theatre needs to become a priority

With nearly 6,000 signatures gathered, preservationists are pushing leaders to take action on the Uptown Theatre

Flickr Creative Commons/Sarah A.

A renewed effort seeking action on the Uptown Theatre on North Broadway Avenue continues to build momentum as a petition which urges elected representatives and the building’s owner to prioritize its restoration approaches 6,000 signatures.

Shuttered in 1981, the large and ornate theater has stood idle in the center of the Uptown community for decades. Despite stabilization efforts in 1996 and 2005 to ensure that the building’s facade remains intact, little to no progress has been made on a comprehensive restoration plan which would see the landmark theater returned to the community as a contributing asset.

An illustration from 1926 which depicts the interior of the Uptown Theatre.
Flickr Creative Commons/CharmaineZoe's Marvelous Melange

“Seeing the Uptown Theatre is on people’s bucket list,” Andy Pierce, the petition’s creator and volunteer with Friends of the Uptown tells us. “But how many more decades are going to roll by while we keep it stabilized and viable for redevelopment?”

Pierce says that the purpose of the petition is to encourage political leaders to figure out a solution that will help push for the renovation of the Uptown Theatre. And with the petition approaching 6,000 signatures, Pierce adds that there’s an overwhelming sense of support from the community level to see the Uptown Theatre reopened and serving the community.

Ward Miller of Preservation Chicago says that the petition shows that Chicago residents have taken up the cause of preservation and want to make the restoration of the Uptown Theatre a priority for their community.

“We’ve come very far in the 50 years since the demolition of the Garrick Theater and Chicago Stock Exchange building when your common citizen may not have been involved in architectural preservation,” Miller says. “But this is another example of a project that has so much good potential in so many ways and something that could positively impact the entire Uptown Entertainment District.”

One common theme that Miller and Pierce both highlight is the need to prioritize the Uptown Theatre’s condition and its role in the neighborhood as a destination and economic engine. And with Chicago continually surpassing tourism records each year, Miller suggests that renovating the Uptown Threatre would be a huge win not only for Uptown residents, but for the city as a whole.

“Programs, events, tours, conventions—these are the things that help drive tourism and make Chicago exciting,” Miller suggests. “The Uptown community has experienced a renaissance in the last 15 to 20 years and prioritizing projects that will help with tourism is part of the role of being the mayor or being an elected representative.”

Pierce also makes the link between the Uptown Theatre and tourism and suggests opening the lobby of the Uptown Theatre for the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s annual Open House Chicago program as a simple way to highlight the historic theater’s beauty and its need for support.

“At some point, these projects have to become someone’s priority,” Pierce adds. “The Uptown Theatre is one of our great landmarks and we’re looking for a solution.”