A group of actors is working with Preservation Illinois to pressure the city of Chicago into blocking a new apartment building on the north side. The development is planned for 4520 North Beacon Street, the current location of the Hull House Theater.
Designed by Crombie Taylor and built in 1966, the theater has been the home of several theater troupes over the decades, some sporting names you’ve probably heard of like Jim Belushi, George Wendt, and William H. Macy. A bank recently foreclosed on the property and sold it to developer David Gassman.
The group trying to block the apartment plan contends that the theater’s location and history would make it a good part of Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s much-ballyhooed plan to establish an Uptown Entertainment District.
But in an interview with the Chicago Business Journal, Mr. Gassman countered that the property is not zoned for commercial uses, and that the most recent group of performers were operating in violation of city zoning ordinances.
Opponents plan to try to landmark the building to protect it. Whether they can get that done before it’s too late remains to be seen. The city’s zoning committee is expected to take up the apartment proposal when it meets next week.
You can read the latest press release from the preservationists below.
Artists, Business Leaders and Community Fighting to Save the Hull House
Theater From Destruction
The Consortium to Save Hull House Formed to Protect One of Chicago’s Cultural Treasures
June 10, 2013 – CHICAGO – Members of Chicago’s artistic, cultural and business community are coming together to protect one of Chicago’s most treasured theaters – the Hull House Theater. Known as The Consortium to Save Hull House Theater (The Consortium), the group is entreating city officials, the community and others to protect the Uptown theater from destruction as a result of redevelopment plans to turn the property into market rate apartments.
The Consortium is comprised of artists including Joe Mantegna, Jim Belushi, George Wendt, Jim Jacobs, William H. Macy, William Petersen, Robert Falls, Marilu Henner, Jackie Taylor and Stuart Gordon, as well as members of Preservation Chicago and local business leaders. Upon learning about the new owner’s plans to redevelop the property into apartments, the group quickly mobilized late last month and will be taking its case before the Chicago City Council Committee on Zoning and Landmarks meeting on Tuesday, June 11, 2013.
“This is one of the last historic theaters of its kind in Chicago, and we will fight diligently to ensure it is protected for current and future generations of residents and artists,” said Jim Jacobs, one of The Consortium’s leaders, who is known for co-writing the hit Broadway musical, Grease. “Not only is the Hull House Theater a cultural gem, it is also an integral part of the new Uptown Entertainment District and will help drive visitation and spending in the neighborhood.”
Originally named for local community newspaper owner Leo. A. Lerner, the Hull House Theater was opened in 1966 and is located at 4520 North Beacon Street in the basement of the Uptown branch of the Hull House Association, which was founded by Nobel Prize-winner Jane Addams. It has a rich legacy and is one of the defining theaters of Chicago’s “Off Loop” theater scene during the 1960’s. Designed by noted architect Crombie Taylor, the Hull House Theater is known for its unobstructed views, perfect acoustics and intimate experience. It is widely considered one of the best designed theaters in Chicago.
Built under the leadership of famed theater director Bob Sickinger, the Hull House Theater flourished and many well-known playwrights and actors launched careers there, including David Mamet, Joe Mantegna, Meshach Taylor and Dennis Franz. It was previously home to The Organic Theater Company, Zebra Crossing and Jackie Taylor’s Black Ensemble Theater. Since December 2011, Pegasus Players, a non-profit professional theater company, has been in residence.
“Hull House Theater is the place that changed the face of theater in Chicago,” said Stuart Gordon, filmmaker and founder of The Organic Theater Company. “It should continue producing theater for the Uptown community, and we will explore all avenues to ensure it is saved. Does Uptown really need more apartments at the cost of destroying a living landmark?”
“Chicago’s new cultural plan calls for developing neighborhood-centric cultural districts, and the opportunity to create such an area in Uptown is significant,” said Nick Rabkin, a member of The Consortium. “Saving this remarkable theater will be a big step toward bringing the city’s cultural vision to life.”
Ilesa Duncan, executive artistic director of Pegasus Players and The Consortium are working on a plan to purchase the theater building from the developer and create The Bob Sickinger Theater Center, in honor of the director who passed away last month. The new center would also include a new theater on the second floor to be named after visionary Chicago theater director Paul Sills.
“By protecting the theater, we are fulfilling a clear community need,” said Duncan. “We have a defined vision for how we can maintain the cultural integrity of the theater, honor Jane Addams’ legacy and transform the property into an epicenter of arts and culture for the Uptown community,” she added.
The Consortium will present its case to the Chicago City Council Committee on Zoning and Landmarks on Tuesday in hopes of preventing the owner’s request to upzone the property and allow additional apartments. Concurrently, it will be submitting an application to the Chicago Landmarks Commission to secure landmark status on the property.