New Uptown Coffee Shop Remembers its Architectural Past

Wilson Abbey

We know words.  Lots and lots of words.  Yet to date, we have yet to come across a word that adequately describes our love of coffee, and a good neighborhood coffee shop.

So it doesn’t take much beyond the word “coffee” to get our attention. But when the people at Wilson Abbey sent us an e-mail today with a press release about their new coffee shop that’s chock full of architectural goodness, well, we had to re-print it in its entirety.  Enjoy the history lesson.


Uptown in Chicago has always been the neighborhood of promise. When the train line was extended north in 1900 the area hosted a 4,381-seat Balaban & Katz movie palace named the Uptown Theater plus two other venues for music, the Aragon Ballroom and the Riviera. In the 1920s Uptown was on the verge of becoming the second-hottest nightspot after Chicago’s downtown.

But then the Crash put a kink in those plans.

In March 2013 Mayor Rahm Emmanuel designated Uptown an entertainment district. Now, nearly a century later, a revitalized Uptown is again on the verge.

At the vanguard of this revitalization is Wilson Abbey, a neighborhood center with an auditorium, theater, and a number of break-out rooms for conferences and meetings. The centerpiece of Wilson Abbey at 935 W. Wilson Street is the Everybody’s Coffee shop which will feature live music and artwork from local artists.

Wilson AbbeyLocated near the corner of Sheridan and Wilson, a short distance from both Lake Shore Drive and the Wilson Red-Line stop, the building has its roots in the building boom of the 1920s. The original architects were two brothers Cornelius W. Rapp and George Leslie Rapp (1878–1942) who were also responsible for the Riviera (1918) and the Uptown Theater (1925) as well as a number of other movie palaces in major metropolitan cities. Starting out as a Hudson dealership, the establishment through the years underwent a number of transformations reflective of the rise and fall of the neighborhood.

Finally in 2011 the building was slated for a gut re-hab. The challenge for Absolute Architecture (principle James Kapche) was to take the existing warehouse structure and come up with an architecturally esthetic and sustainable design. The former first floor Hudson showroom with its cathedral ceilings now forms the nucleus for a 496-person auditorium, perfect for concerts, receptions, and event space. During the re-hab cement pillars were purposely left unpainted. The concrete floor was buffed, scored, and stained to create a polished urban look. Exposed pipes surrounded by a chainlink fence work together for a gritty, yet streamlined steam-punk feel. A folk-art fresco of a jockey on a horse, a hold-over from when 935 W. Wilson was a speakeasy and booky joint, was rescued before interior demolition and saved for installation.

Wilson AbbeyThe centerpiece of Wilson Abbey is Everybody’s Coffee which will feature Direct and Fair Trade coffees from around the world. The coffee shop will also host live music and artwork from local artists. The interior is comprised of re-purposed and upcycled materials such as pallet-wood paneling and the sales counter features century-old terra cotta detailing salvaged from a building demolition. Furnishings as well are comprised of found materials such as oak pallet chairs, booths crafted from industrial steel racks, and counters created from a storm-damaged tree, crosscut and sealed with a high-gloss epoxy. Everything about Everybody’s Coffee is about creating a space that is accessible for all and yet unique and individualistic. A place for everybody.

Opening February 10, 2014, Wilson Abbey and Everybody’s Coffee is excited about joining with area residents to spark new life into Uptown, Chicago!

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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