CHICAGO (CBS) — After a major renovation, the Theater on the Lake in the Lincoln Park neighborhood has reopened, and for the first time will be able to host stage productions year-round.
The building that houses Theatre on the Lake began life as a sanitarium for children with tuberculosis in 1920. It became a recreation center for the USO during World War II, and was turned into a theater in 1953. For decades, the 19,000-foot screened-in structure was home to performances only in summer months.
Chicago Park District Supt. Mike Kelly said a renovation this year replaced the screens with glass windows, and added other features to turn it into a year-round theater.
“This is the next icon along the lakefront. You have South Shore [Cultural Center], you have Soldier Field, of course you have Buckingham Fountain, and now once again Theater on the Lake is going to be synonymous with great iconic structures full of life along the lakefront,” he said.
After 65 seasons, Theatre on the Lake artistic curator Isaac Gomez said the building needed a lot of improvements to meet the needs of performers, audiences, and the community in the 21st Century.
Gomez said he patiently waited for all the work to be done.
“I feel like every time I kept passing by – you know, I worked at Victory Gardens Theatre for four years as their director of new play development, and I’m now full-time professor at DePaul University’s theater school – so every time exiting Fullerton, I would look by this space thinking ‘One day. One day,’” he said.
In addition to the new glass windows, improvements include climate control, improved lighting and sound, and other technological and physical upgrades.
Gomez said Theatre on the Lake isn’t just a jewel on the lakefront, but for all of Chicago.
“The Chicago Park District, they will continue to take works – through their Night Out in the Parks programming, and other cultural events and programming – all over the city to make sure that theater and art is accessible to all communities, not just some communities,” he said.
The Night Out in the Parks program brings movies, theater productions, concerts, festivals, and other events to parks across the city.
Kelly said the renovated Theater on the Lake is just part of a much grander plan to more closely follow the open vision for the lakefront offered by legendary Chicago architect Daniel Burnham.