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Old Town School Of Folk Music Unveils State-Of-The-Art Addition

Old Town School Of Folk Music

The front entrance of the main building of the Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln Ave. (Credit: CBS)

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UPDATED 01/09/12 12:52 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS)The Old Town School of Folk Music has unveiled its new, state-of-the-art addition.

As WBBM Newsradio’s Regine Schlesinger reports, the revered music school was co-founded in 1957 by singer Win Stracke and multi-instrumentalist Frank Hamilton.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Regine Schlesinger reports

Now, across from its current location at 4544 N. Lincoln Ave. in the Lincoln Square neighborhood, the gleaming new Old Town School East building has opened at 4545 N. Lincoln Ave.

“This is a classic example of how a single cultural entity can take a neighborhood and become an economic engine,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the the building’s dedication.

Subsidized by funding from the State of Illinois, the new $17 million facility will include three dance studios, acoustically-engineered classrooms, and a 150-seat performance space.

The building’s front panels spell out the word “music” in 28 languages, including Braille.

The Old Town School started out in a since-demolished building at 333 W. North Ave. in the eponymous Old Town neighborhood, a stone’s throw from the once-legendary folk clubs on Wells Street.

In 1968, the Old Town School moved to a 13,000 square-foot historic building at 909 W. Armitage Ave. in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, which the school still uses as a secondary location.

In its early days, the Old Town School hosted some of America’s most famous musicians from folk to gospel and blues, including Pete Seeger, Mahalia Jackson and Big Bill Broonzy. It also helped launch the careers of John Prine, Bob Gibson, and Roger McGuinn of the Byrds.

In the 1980s, the Old Town School became known for its Sunday afternoon “Flea Market” radio show, which was broadcast live from the school’s Armitage Avenue headquarters on WBEZ-91.5 FM. The show was hosted by a folk legends Jim Post and later Art Thieme, and hosted performers ranging from the Balkan Rhythm Band to novelty artist Jan Hobson of “Raccoon Song” fame.

But enrollment had begun to decline, the school was nearing bankruptcy in 1981. Fundraising efforts soon brought the school back to profitability, and led to a renovation of the Armitage Avenue building in 1987.

By the 1990s, demand at the Old Town School had grown to the point where the school was supplementing its space by holding some classes in an apartment building down the street at 939 W. Armitage Ave.

Finally, in 1998, the Old Town School opened its current main headquarters in the old Hild Library building, with a 400-seat concert hall and vast additional classroom space. The school also began hosting the Chicago Folk and Roots Festival along Lincoln Avenue and in nearby Welles Park, and has been credited for spurring a revival in the Lincoln Square neighborhood.

And the children of President Barack Obama and Mayor Emanuel just so happen to be among those who have taken classes at the school.