New Plan for Chicago’s Old Esquire Theater

The Esquire Theater at 58 East Oak Street in Chicago's Gold Coast neighborhood.

The Esquire Theater at 58 East Oak Street in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood.

It’s been many months since we heard about anything happening with the old Esquire Theater (58 East Oak Street).  Now, there’s word from Alderman Reilly’s office that a new rehabilitation plan is being floated.

Previous plans included tearing the theater down and replacing it with a residential tower, tearing the theater down and replacing it with a boutique hotel, and rehabbing the property while shoehorning in both commercial and hotel development.  The city most recently approved demolition of the building in September, 2008.

Those plans were killed by local NIMBY groups like SORE (Seniors Obstructing Redevelopment Everywhere), using the same tired canard about parking and traffic that has killed many other project both within and beyond its self-proclaimed jurisdiction.

The latest plan calls for hacking the street-level section of the building into five roughly boutique-sized portions for retail.  The three upper floors of the building would be reduced to two by combining the first and second floors.  The currently sunken first floor would be raised to street level.

The remaining two floors would be offered for commercial development, accessible by stairwells and elevators through a lobby on the west side of the building.  But turning the second (formerly third) and third (formerly fourth) floors into useable space isn’t as simple as sladgehammers and spackle.  The projection rooms will have to be dismantled, and the sloping floors that made sense with rows of theater seats will have to be leveled.

Externally, the existing walls and roof will remain largely unchanged, though a balcony area will be opened up, yielding the possibility of some kind of decorative greenery.

Drawing of the proposed renovation of the Esquire Theater building, courtesy of Alderman Reilly's office

Drawing of the proposed renovation of the Esquire Theater building, courtesy of Alderman Reilly’s office

According to a drawing sent over from the alderman’s office,  the result would be a fairly good integration of the existing building into the Oak Street streetwall formed by its greystone neighbors.

The Esquire, itself, is a confused structure.  Built in 1938 and designed by W.L. Pereira, it looks nothing like the other buildings on the block, most of which are residences converted into retail, or modern structures trying to blend in with that aesthetic.  It has been vacant since the theater closed, and Citibank moved a block west to the new Barneys New York Building at 15 East Oak Street.

Giving the Esquire five varied bays will continue the streetwall illusion, and open up some new retail opportunities on Chicago’s most desirable street.

One thing that will have to be sacrificed to make this happen, though, is the giant horizontal Esquire marquee.  Though it’s something of a nostalgic landmark to people who live in the area, it is the vertical “ESQUIRE” sign that is more beloved.  That sign will remain under this plan — a piece of Oak Street history preserved.

The paperwork is already being worked on, and if everything moves forward smoothly, we could see construction crews at work in the Fall, and new boutiques opening in time for Christmas 2012.

By the numbers:

  • Total number of commercial spaces: Seven
  • Space 1 (first floor): 1,020 square feet
  • Space 2 (first floor): 1,955 square feet
  • Space 3 (first floor): 2,220 square feet
  • Space 4 (first floor): 2,410 square feet
  • Space 5 (first floor): 2,305 square feet
  • Space 6 (second floor): 10,650 square feet
  • Space 7 (third floor): 10,680 square feet
  • Lobby: 1,895 square feet
  • Six trash containers facing the public alley, but recessed into the building’s property line
  • First floor ceiling height: up to 25.5 feet
  • Second floor terrace: 780 square feet
  • Sidewalks: black

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at

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