The Abandoned Uptown Theatre


Photo: Second City Warehouse [Flickr]

Neatorama reader lir wrote an interesting account of the abandoned Uptown Theatre in Chicago. The ornate theater, the second largest in the United States, has been abandoned and boarded up since 1980 because the high cost of upkeep and repair:

The theatre is called the Uptown Theatre. It was built by Balaban and Katz, a company started by four Chicagoans who built, owned and operated dozens of theatres and movie palaces from the 1920's to the 1970's. It was designed in a Spanish Baroque style by Rapp and Rapp - the same who built the Chicago Theatre on State Street four years before. It was built in 1925 with 4,381 seats (only the Radio City Music Hall is larger), a five story main lobby and two other side lobbies, an eight story facade, a large Wurlitzer organ, and millions worth of marble statuary and oil paintings. Silent films with full orchestras were the original entertainment at the theatre, but since its opening the theatre has been a stage for musicals, concerts, television shows, company meetings...

Unfortunately, due to the less then perfect reputation the area has had for a while, the cost of upkeep, its size, and from competition with the Riviera and Aragon, the Uptown started to sell off parts of itself, starting with the organ, and continuing with much of the interior decorations to pay for the care of the place. In the 1970's, the Uptown was used as a large concert venue, with evidently a very memorable show by Bruce Springsteen taking place there in 1980. It was about this time that the theatre was sold, boarded up, and while plans with what exactly to use the massive ornately archaic and deteriorating structure for were being formed, water pipes froze and burst inside, causing severe damage. (Source)

Undercity.org, a website dedicated to exploration of abandoned and hidden urban sites, has a fascinating gallery of the Uptown Theatre: Link | Uptown Theatre photoset at Flickr by Second City Warehouse


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Cleveland's similarly grand Playhouse Square went through decades of deterioration and closings in the 1960s and 1970s, when the formerly beautiful Beaux Arts theaters (used for movies) were to be razed and turned into a parking lot. In the 1970s, Cleveland truly was a dump (hence the "burning river" jokes). Fortunately, the 1980s and 1990s saw incredible fund-raising and subsequent renovation, and the place is GORGEOUS now, showing touring plays instead of movies (though the occasional special film is shown) and concerts. It was one of my favorite field trip destinations as a child, and the nonprofit (!) project revitalized the downtown area. If Cleveland can do it, Chicago certainly can.
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