CHICAGO (CBS) — Chicago’s Uptown Theatere became a symbol of neighborhood neglect.
So much so, Hollywood even used the iconic building in the “Transformers” series.
As CBS 2 political reporter Derrick Blakley reports, one of America’s grand movie palaces is set for its second act.
Touring the cavernous Uptown, once elegant, now derelict, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and theater owner Jerry Mickelson marveled at what was, and what will be, again.
“The Uptown Theatre is a landmark for Uptown but a Chicago attraction and that’s what today is about,” said Emanuel.
Opened in 1925, the Uptown was arguably the grandest movie palace ever built.
More square footage than Radio City Music Hall and 4,400 seats. The biggest theater in Chicago.
Plus a towering lobby half a block long.
“The Uptown is the last of the large movie places in the United States that hasn’t been demolished or restored,” said Chicago Planning Commissioner David Reifman.
Instead, it’s been sadly neglected. Closed since 1981. Plaster crumbling from periodic lack of heat and water damage. Upholstered seats broken or filthy.
“I fell in love with this theater when I walked into the lobby in 1975,” said Uptown Theatre owner Jerry Mickelson.
Ten years ago, Mickelson bought the Uptown at foreclosure.
Now, with 75 million in public and private money, the plan is to transform the historic eyesore into a neighborhood gem.
“I think there will be challenges finding enough programming to fill that big of a theater,” said Chicago Tribune theater critic Chris Jones. “But on the other hand, what are you going to do even if you haven’t got it filled? You couldn’t let it go away.”
That’s one challenge. Another is attracting big crowds, especially suburbanites, to a theater that’s not downtown in an area with little parking.
Mayor Emanuel points to the new Wilson Red Line station, with another new station coming at Lawrence.
And he noted this investment is not going into downtown. It’s going to a neighborhood.
Critics claim he only spends money in the Loop.
One hope is reviving the Uptown Theatre will help revive the surviving neighborhood as well.