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Uptown in the News  

August 3, 2005
Uptown stars in $500,000 city rehab
Façade restored as safety measure
By Angela Caputo

This year the Uptown Theater is turning 80, and she's getting a facelift. Well, sort of.

Under the watch of Peter Holsten who was appointed with receivership of the building, 4816 North Broadway Ave., earlier this year, a crew of masonry workers has been hired to stabilize the building's exterior.

Over time, water has eroded sections of the mortar that's been holding on the ornate facade. construction crews were brought in earlier this month to remove unstable pieces. Until a new owner is secured, the dismantled terracotta pieces are being photographed and stored inside the theater.

The city is footing the $500,00 bill to stabilize the west, south and east facing exterior. that money will also cover a drain on the building's roof and other mortar repairs to plug other leaks.

Building Department spokesman Pete Scales said that the city decided to take action after seeing an increased risk of pedestrian injuries. "If anything were to give way or fall down it would be disastrous," he said.

by the end of August the facade work should be complete, Holsten said. Soon after, he anticipates the canopies covering the sidewalks will be dismantled and the sidewalk re-opened.

The Uptown was built in 1925 and designed by architects C.W. and Geo L. Rapp who also crafted the blueprints for the Chicago Theater. The Spanish Revival-style, former-movie theater was designated an historic landmark in 1991.

Ald. Mary Ann Smith's (48th) staff is working to broker a deal with a developer who could help restore the theater to its 1920s prominence.

It's proving to be a tough sell though.

Since the owners of Urban Investment Trust spiraled into bankruptcy, the theater has become a hot potato. Another ownership interest, Lund Partners, began making payments until that company fell on hard financial times too.

Then the building went into legal limbo until the assets could be divided through the courts. Considering cost estimates for restoring the 4,500 seat theater are at roughly $40 million, it's also been a challenge to find an investor wiling to take on the theater and sink the money needed into the rehab.

"The longer it languishes the more it deteriorates and the more it (costs) to finish it," Holsten said. Wit that in mind, a top Smith staffer said the alderman is making every effort to secure a buyer.

Uptown resident Joann Afala said her group, Friends of the Uptown, hasn't lost hope that the theater will be revived after being dormant for 18 years. The group recently began a petition in support of the building to keep a buzz going about its future. So far 1,500 people have signed on.

With the neighborhood "making a comeback" Afala said, "I hope more people will see that there's so much potential (for the theater)."

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