From Cops to Kids: CPD Station Begins Transformation Into Children’s Theater

Groundbreaking isn't just for adults. (Courtesy of the Chicago Children's Theatre)

Groundbreaking isn’t just for adults. (Courtesy of the Chicago Children’s Theatre)

Chicago’s most recent groundbreaking ceremony had the usual: Refreshments, dignitaries, and shiny metal shovels.  It also had something different: A gaggle of tittering children digging in the dirt.  That’s because this was the groundbreaking for the Chicago Children’s Theatre’s new home at 100 South Racine Street in the city’s Near West Side.

The organization has taken over the vacant 12th District police station and using a design from Wheeler Kearns Architects will now transform it into a new space for children to learn and grow through the performing arts.  Details in the press release following the images.

Rendering of the new Chicago Children's Theatre (Courtesy of the Chicago Children's Theatre)

Rendering of the new Chicago Children’s Theatre (Courtesy of the Chicago Children’s Theatre)

Chicago Police District 12 Headquarters - 001a

Until recently, the 12th District police station was abandoned, and only used for filming TV shows. (Courtesy of Artefaqs architecture photography)

Chicago Children’s Theatre, the city’s largest professional theater company devoted exclusively to children and young families, officially broke ground Saturday, December 12th, on the company’s first-ever permanent home – an adaptive reuse of the former, 12th District Police Station at 100 S. Racine Avenue in Chicago’s West Loop.

At a morning groundbreaking ceremony, Chicago Children’s Theatre board members, staff, artists and supporters joined First Lady City of Chicago Amy Rule, Steve Koch, Deputy Mayor of the City of Chicago, Chicago 27th Ward Alderman Walter Burnett, Jr., Illinois State Senator, 5th District, Patricia Van Pelt, VIPs from the city’s live theater community and representatives from community groups including the West Loop Community Association and the West Central Association.

With children wearing ceremonial hard hats and toy shovels in hand, the group celebrated the upcoming transformation of the long-shuttered police station at the southwest corner of Monroe and Racine in Chicago’s West Loop into a beautiful, mixed-use performing arts and education facility designed to serve all Chicago families.

Saturday’s event kicked off Phase One of construction, including a flexible, 149-seat studio theater that
occupies the station’s former jail cell block. The studio theater will have flexible seating to accommodate professional shows, student performances and Red Kite interactive theater for students with autism. Phase One, which also includes a lobby, classrooms, support space and 30 parking spaces, is slated for completion next winter.

“This new and permanent home for the Chicago Children’s Theatre will not only be an excellent addition to the West Loop community, but a new home for the arts in Chicago,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “I’m proud that this building has been given a new purpose that will benefit the children and families of Chicago for years to come.”

Phase Two, to be completed in 2020, includes construction of a second, state-of-the-art, 299-seat mainstage theater, designed so the company can serve larger audiences while providing more flexibility and control over production values and schedules. Phase Two also encompasses a dedicated box office, an interactive lobby, rehearsal and storage spaces, while maintaining the 30 parking places.

“After 10 years of staging our productions and educational programs at museums, theaters and other venues throughout the city and suburbs, our new home will provide CCT with a solid foundation to engage, inspire and serve all Chicagoland families,” said Chicago Children’s Theater Co-Founder and Artistic Director Jacqueline Russell. “We are finally graduating from an itinerant company to a theater with a permanent home, allowing us to better serve the children of Chicago, grow our education programming, provide a cultural anchor for this newly revitalized neighborhood and further establish our presence on a national scale.”

“As a new, centrally located gathering place for Chicago’s children to explore ideas and projects that bridge theater and education, the new Chicago Children’s Theatre will bring countless benefits to this city,” added Chicago Children’s Theatre Founder and Board Chair Todd Leland, Managing Director, Goldman Sachs International. “We will have new capacity to expand our theater programs and teacher workshops, grow our Red Kite Project into a year-round program for children on the autism spectrum, and add new programs for children with special needs.”

The former police station, built in 1948, believed to be designed by Paul Gerhardt, Jr., was purchased earlier this year from the City of Chicago for $1. The purchase was preceded by additional project funding in the form of a $5 million grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. The total projected cost for purchase, renovation and new construction for the new Chicago Children’s Theatre is approximately $15 million. That amount is part of a larger, $20 million institutional expansion campaign the company has launched titled “For Our Children, The Campaign for Chicago Children’s Theatre.”

The design team at Wheeler Kearns Architects – a Chicago-based firm that counts Old Town School of Folk Music and Wolcott School among past clients – has been collaborating with Working Group One Architects to create a new facility on the .44 acre site for Chicago Children’s Theatre that emphasizes accessibility and transparency to the community. Pepper Construction is the project’s general contractor.

Until Phase Two is completed, Chicago Children’s Theatre will continue to present its mainstage productions at its current performance home, the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn St. in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood.

More about Chicago Children’s Theatre

Since its launch ten years ago in 2005, Chicago Children’s Theatre has become recognized as the city’s largest professional theater company devoted exclusively to children and young families. The company evolved out of Chicago’s need for high-quality, professional year-round children’s programming to match the quality and significance of theatrical powerhouses such as Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Goodman Theatre, and Lookingglass Theatre.

By employing top talent from Chicago and all over the United States, CCT has enriched Chicago’s cultural landscape with diverse and meaningful theatrical productions and educational offerings. Audiences have embraced the company since its inaugural production, A Year with Frog and Toad at the Goodman Theatre in 2006.

Since its founding, Chicago Children’s Theatre also has had a strong focus on new work. Nine world premieres, including The Selfish Giant, The Hundred Dresses, Jackie and Me, Dot and Ziggy, The Houdini Box, The Elephant and The Whale (in association with Redmoon), Mr. Chickee’s Funny Money, Leo Lionni’s Frederick and Wonderland, Alice’s Rock & Roll Adventure, have enjoyed highly successful inaugural runs in Chicago, followed by new productions at family theaters across the U.S.

Chicago Children’s Theatre also offers a full roster of after school theater classes and summer camps, and honors a strong commitment to low-income families and children with special needs. In partnership with Chicago Public Schools and Target, CCT has offered free tickets and transportation to more than 5,000 Chicago-area low-income students each season. Meanwhile, CCT has pioneered immersive theater designed specifically for children on the autism spectrum via its Red Kite Project, and recently expanded programming to address the needs of children with impaired vision or hearing and Down’s syndrome.

Led by Artistic Director Jacqueline Russell and Board Chair Todd Leland, the company is supported by a dynamic Board of Directors comprised of dedicated individuals from the fields of entertainment, philanthropy and business. Officers include Jeff Hughes, President; Lynn Lockwood Murphy, Vice Chair and Secretary; David Saltiel, Vice Chair; and David Chung, Treasurer. Chicago Children’s Theatre is sponsored in part by ComEd, Goldman Sachs Gives and Target.

Location: 100 South Racine Street, Near West Side

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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