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Uptown in the News  

July 2003
Chicago Sun-Times "City Living" Insert
Uptown rises again
Lakefront neighborhood is regaining former glory
By Heidi Moore

It's been a long time since Uptown meant glamour.

While the lakefront neighborhood had its share of in-fills and smaller condominium conversions during the past 10 years, it has resisted the sort of large-scale redevelopment that has overhauled so many other Chicago neighborhoods. Now, several mid-rise condominiums as well as a mixed-use development in the former Goldblatt's department store building are giving the area a long-overdue face lift.

In 1889 the city of Chicago incorporated land that would become Uptown. The first residents were wealthy Chicagoans in search of lakefront property, leading to a proliferation of mansions in what is now the historic Sheridan Park district, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

But it was the silent film era that established Uptown's reputation for glitz and glamour. Chicago was poised to be the film capital of the country, and the Northeast Side neighborhood of Uptown was a parading-ground for silent film stars Gloria Swanson, Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford. Essanay Studios---run by filmmaker George K. Spoor and Gilbert "Billy Bronco" Anderson, the first cowboy star---had its headquarters on Argyle between Magnolia and Clark. Eventually the sunny Southern California climate, more conducive to year-round filming, drove filmmakers west. Essanay closed its Uptown studios in 1917.

In the 1920s, the entertainment epicenter shifted from Broadway and Wilson to Broadway and Lawrence, but Uptown remained a draw for its movie palaces and jazz joints.

Theater operators Barney Balaban and Sam Katz, developers of the flagship Chicago Theatre, opened the Riviera Theatre at 4746 N. Racine Ave. Then Balaban and Katz enlisted the same architects, C.W. Rapp and George L. Rapp, to build a lavish theater closer to Broadway and Lawrence. With more than 4,000 seats, the Spanish Baroque Uptown Theatre was one of the largest performance venues in the country when it opened in 1925. The theater subsequently fell into disrepair after it was closed in the 1980s. Now the Chicago Landmark theater is awaiting restoration by the nonprofit Uptown Theatre and Center for the Arts.

After the Depression, Uptown suffered from an economic slump that it couldn't shake for decades. Not until the early 1990s did Uptown start to see renewed interest from developers.

Redevelopment has been going on for years in the ethnically diverse area bordered by Lake Michigan, Clark Street, Foster Avenue and Irving Park Road, but until now the changes have been gradual. Several new residential developments are transforming the heart of Uptown, with microcenters of development in Margate Park and national historic districts Sheridan Park and Buena Park.

According to a survey by real estate firm Sudler & Co., condo prices rose 15.2 percent in 2002. As housing prices climb, Uptown's name is starting to regain its former cache.

Two other factors help make it irresistible to developers---proximity to the lake and relative low cost, especially compared with the more highly developed neighborhoods of Edgewater and Lake View to the north and south.

Uptown is just steps away from miles of Lake Michigan shoreline. The lakefront has no shortage of draws: Montrose Harbor, Montrose-Wilson Beach, Waveland Avenue Golf Course and, at the northernmost boundary, Foster Avenue Beach. Despite the attractions, the stretch of lakeshore from Irving Park to Foster is still relatively uncongested compared to areas further south. Furthermore, the Lawrence and (soon-to-be-renovated) Wilson L stations provide easy CTA access to downtown.

Entertainment options don't abound, but they aren't scarce either. A few venues remain from the neighborhood's 1920s heyday. The Riviera Theatre still hosts frequent concert performances, as does the Spanish Baroque Aragon Ballroom at 1101 W. Lawrence.

The jazz is still hot at the Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway, a club as famous for its ties to Al Capone as for launching the careers of dozens of jazz musicians. The Sunday night poetry slam hosted by Marc Smith makes the Mill the place to catch budding wordsmiths.

New dining and entertainment destinations---the Magnolia Café at 1224 W. Wilson, Frankie J's restaurant/theater venue at 4437 N. Broadway and the (not-so-new) Holiday Club at 4000 N. Sheridan Rd.---have followed the condo crowd, adding to the mix.

Most of the Uptown action, however, is in the form of new, mixed-use real estate developments.

The Phoenix is an appropriate name for a major new development in a neighborhood rising from its ashes. The $24 million mixed-use project is already underway, and developer Joseph Freed Homes is rehabbing the long-vacant Goldblatt's department store on the 4700 block of North Broadway.

When completed, the Phoenix at Uptown Square will have 37 lofts and 41,000 square feet of retail space, including a Borders Books and Music on the corner of Broadway and Racine. Two historic terra cotta buildings will house 24 condominiums, retail space and the Borders bookstore. The third building will be a new-construction, two-story condominium building with 13 soft lofts and first-floor retail space.

The one- and two-bedroom condos and lofts feature 756 to 1,500 square feet and are base-priced from the upper $100,000s to the $400,000s. A fitness center, indoor heated parking lot, secured lobby with video-entry system, bike storage and elevator round out the amenities. All soft-loft and condo units will be equipped with Whirlpool appliances, hardwood floors, granite countertops and maple cabinetry.

The sales center for the Phoenix at Uptown Square is in the Uptown Bank Building, Suite 502, at 4753 N. Broadway. The sales office is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. For information, call (773) 728-8688 or visit www.josephfreedhomes.com.

Another new development, the ParVenu, at 4700 N. Sheridan Rd., is a modern mid-rise development featuring views of Lake Michigan from its floor-to-ceiling thermo-insulated windows. Designed by Jonathon Splitt Architects Ltd., the 12-story, 72-unit ParVenu already is 60 percent sold. The remaining units are two-bedroom, two-bath with 1,040 to 1,497 square feet. They're base-priced from $225,000 to $450,000. The ParVenu also features a fitness center, two roof terraces and 4,500 square feet of retail space.

Greg Eldridge, a real estate agent with Chicago-based real estate firm @properties, said, "I think it's a very atypical building for that area. It feels more like a River North building plopped in the middle of Uptown."

The all-glass exterior and pre-cast concrete panels will give it a very contemporary feel, he added, setting it apart from anything else in the area.

"It's going to be a very nice level of finish that buyers won't necessarily feel compelled to upgrade," Eldridge said.

The ParVenu's on-site sales center is on the first floor of the building. Hours are noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and other times by appointment. Call @properties for information at (773) 305-0474 or visit online at www.parvenu4700.com.

At the southwest corner of Uptown, across from Graceland Cemetery, the luxury Graceland Rowhomes feature 3,000-plus-square-foot floor plans. The three-bedroom units include separate dens and family rooms, 3.5 baths, oak hardwood flooring throughout and wall-to-wall carpeting in the bedrooms and family rooms. Priced from $795,000 to $975,000, Graceland Rowhomes is at 4103-4115 N. Southport Ave. Call Jameson Realty Group at (312) 751-0300 for information.

In the Uptown enclave of Buena Park, construction is ahead of schedule for the Buena Pointe high-rise at 4350 N. Broadway. The mixed-use building includes three retail spaces and 92 one- to three-bedroom residential units, featuring fireplaces with slate surrounds, oak floors and high-tech wiring. Kitchens benefit from maple cabinets and GE Profile appliances, and deluxe master bathrooms are outfitted with double-bowl vanities and 6-foot soaking tubs.

One-bedroom, two-bath units are priced from $192,000, two-bedroom units from $232,000 and two-bedrooms, two-baths from $249,000. Penthouses start at $489,000. Garage spaces are $22,500 each. Units will be ready for delivery in 2004.

Scott Kruger, sales associate for Koenig & Strey, said he's seen drastic changes in Uptown the past two years.

"We used to shy away from using the word Uptown. No one wanted to buy in Uptown; it wasn't a good investment," he said. "Now it's taken a 180-degree turn."

"There's scaffolding that says 'Gateway to Uptown' on Buena Pointe," he noted.

For Buena Pointe sales information, contact Kruger at (312) 642-1400 or visit www.buenapointe.com. The on-site sales center is open noon to 3 p.m. on Sunday.

Another development represented by Koenig & Strey, Magnolia Gardens, at the corner of Magnolia and Wilson Avenues, features two-bedroom, two-bath condominiums. The five-story brick building has retail space available on the Wilson Avenue side. Units have multiple amenities, from ventless gas fireplaces with marble or granite surrounds to 15-by-15-foot terraces on the lower levels.

Magnolia Gardens is 50 percent sold, with delivery slated for December of this year. Units include garage parking and sell for $279,000 to $369,000. The on-site sales center is open 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday or by appointment. For information, call Brant Booker at (312) 642-1400.

Along the lakeshore, Shoreline Park is a 14-story condominium conversion at 4950 N. Marine Dr. The renovated complex features a new fitness facility, a business center with high-speed Internet access, rooftop sundecks and an on-site dry cleaner.

One-bedroom condos, priced $119,900 to $163,900, have 575 to 750 square feet of living space; remaining two-bedrooms, $181,900 to $189,000, have 900 square feet.

Shoreline Park is located between Lawrence and Foster Avenues. The sales center is open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday and from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. Call (773) 784-8300 for more information or visit www.shorelineparkcondos.com.

Perhaps the most exciting new project still in the planning stages is Wilson Yards. The former CTA-owned site along Broadway between Montrose and Wilson is the future home of a large, mixed-use development featuring commercial space, senior and affordable housing, market-rate residences and parking.

"The area continues to have a lot of promise, although there's not much vacant land left," said Peter Holsten, president of Holsten Real Estate Development Corp. and partners with Hal and Gerry Lichterman of Kenard Corp., developers of Wilson Yards.

Century Theatre, Home Depot and Target are all in the running for the anchor space on Broadway, Holsten said.

"There's something for everybody --- a term that's especially true in Uptown, where groups are very vocal about their goals for the area," Holsten said.

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