Uptown Theatre

Quick Stats

LISTED ON MOST ENDANGERED: 2001 (as well as 1996, 2010 & 2014)
LOCATION: 4814-4816 N. Broadway, Chicago, Cook County
STATUS: Redevelopment Underway
BUILT: 1925
SITE TYPE: Theater or Auditorium; Movie Palace
ARCHITECTURE: Spanish Revival
THREAT AT TIME OF LISTING: Abandonment & deterioration
CURRENT USE: Entertainment (once rehabilitation is complete)
DESIGNATIONS: National Register of Historic Places (1986), Chicago Landmark (1991)
LI PROGRAMS & AWARDS: 2004 Chicago Watch List
TAKE ACTION: Keep track of progress at the theater and speak in support of the historic structure at future public meetings.

(Credit: Liz Chilsen)

Historic Significance

Built in 1925, the Uptown Theater was designed by Rapp & Rapp for the Balaban & Katz theater chain. The 4,381-seat and 46,000-square-foot theater was—and still is—one of the largest and most opulent in the country. “Patrons who stepped past the Spanish Baroque Revival façade of the Uptown Theatre entered into the luxurious, six-story grand lobby felt like they were entering a palace,” according to the Chicago Architecture Center. The Uptown Theater served as a movie palace—transitioning from silent films and live vaudeville to musicals and sound films—until the 1970s, when it became a popular live music venue. As a concert hall, the theater hosted some of the biggest names in rock music, including Bruce Springsteen, the Grateful Dead, Frank Zappa, Rod Stewart, Genesis, Peter Gabriel, Prince, Rick James, Dire Straits, Hall & Oates and Billy Joel. Generations of Chicago residents recall attending movies and concerts in the beautiful Uptown Theater.

(Credit: Liz Chilsen)

Threat at Time of Listing - 2001

Unfortunately, in December 1981, water pipes froze and burst, bringing an end to the entertainment at the Uptown Theater. While no immediate plans for demolition ever surfaced, deferred maintenance and deterioration plagued the landmark theater for nearly 40 years. Despite this, the Uptown was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986 and was awarded status as a City of Chicago Landmark in 1991.

Landmarks Illinois advocated for preservation of the architectural marvel for over 20 years, including the Uptown on its annual Most Endangered list four times between 1996 and 2014. Joining numerous preservation groups, including Preservation Chicago, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Friends of the Uptown, Landmarks Illinois has helped to advocate for the rehabilitation of this important historic gem –an effort that has included numerous appearances in building court on the theater’s behalf and constant advocacy for saving the Federal Historic Tax Credit program (included in LI’s 2017 Most Endangered list), a critical financing tool for the Uptown Theatre.

(Credit: Liz Chilsen)

Preservation Efforts

While numerous attempts had been made over the years to restore the historic Uptown Theatre, none came to fruition until Jam Productions purchased the building in 2008 for $3.2 million. The historic character of the Uptown Theater was a major motivating factor for buyer Jerry Mickelson, co-owner of Jam Productions. “It’s one of the nicest ever designed, ever built in this country. They’ll never do it again. It’s so grand, so ornate, so large… It’s so unique in today’s world,” said Mickelson. The high cost of restoring this massive and severely neglected building, however, meant that restoration could not begin right away.


In 2018, it was announced that Mickelson and Farpoint Development had partnered, as the costly rehabilitation project required a large public-private partnership to pull together the necessary pieces for renovations. The project’s budget is $75 million, with about $16 million coming from City of Chicago funds. Financing this massive project is also possible due to the building’s multiple landmarks statuses, which entitle the project to numerous historic tax incentives. In November 2018, the Chicago Community Development Commission signed off on $13 million in tax increment financing (TIF) for the project. The city will also reportedly provide $14 million in property assessed clean energy financing and $3 million through the Chicago’s Adopt-a-Landmark program. Landmarks Illinois’ ongoing commitment to campaigning for the federal historic tax credit program and the creation of a state historic tax credit program in Illinois is critical to the success of the Uptown rehabilitation, which could not move forward without such incentives.


Work at the Uptown Theatre is slated to begin in summer 2019, with a completion date during 2021. The renovated theater is planned as a centerpiece of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s long-promised revitalized Uptown music district, which will also include the Aragon Ballroom, the Riviera Theatre, the Green Mill jazz lounge and the Uptown Underground cabaret. “We’ve never had the right team, momentum and resources to make this happen, but now you have a combination of owner, developer, mayor, planning commissioner, and alderman working together to save the Uptown,” said Andy Pierce, a volunteer with the Friends of the Uptown Theatre group. “This is a different level of commitment.”

In November 2018, Landmarks Illinois teamed up with Jam Productions and Farpoint Development to host a unique event for our Real Estate & Building Industries Council members and supporters: a rare tour inside the Uptown Theater on the eve of the renovation. At the event, Mickelson, co-owner of Jam Productions, explained to guests that the rehabilitation would update infrastructure and fix the facades, but retain as closely as possible the original aesthetics of the historic theater. “It was built as one of the best theaters in this country, and why change it? There’s no reason to,” Mickelson said.

(June 2018 press conference, announcing rehabilitation project of theater. Credit: Landmarks Illinois)

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