It’s been a very long time since Old Town’s Village Theater stopped entertaining people and became a hulking presence lurking a Starbucks’ throw from the lovely and historic Germania Club next door. Now we’re getting a look at the results of a project to restore that facade to its former splendor.
In the photograph above you can see that the red pressed brickwork is nice and clean and newly pointed, and the multi-colored singing terra cotta figures haven’t looked this good since they opened their mouthes 103 years ago when this was the Germania Theater.
The space behind the facade won’t become another movie house, as it was when it closed in 2007. Instead, the ground floor will serve as the main entrance and some common space for Fifteen Fifty on the Park, the condominium building going up next door that SCB designed for Golub, CIM Group, and Avoda Group.
Interestingly, the second floor of this part of the building will become someone’s home. The condo will benefit from the huge arched windows overlooking North Clark Street in front, and a huge terrace at the back.
When the tower portion of 1550 erased an unloved retail building from the corner of North and Clark, nobody cried. But great effort has been put into saving this part of the city’s history. If you’re not struck by the visual benefit of Adolph Werner’s design, here are a bunch of other reasons it was saved:
- This was one of the city’s first movie theaters, and opened in a pre-Hollywood era when Chicago was the center of the film industry.
- This is one of the few remaining signs that this used to be the epicenter of a thriving German neighborhood, and the building specifically pays tribute to people, like myself, of Alsatian heritage.
- This building’s ornaments are some of the few remaining examples of colored terra cotta in the city. They were made by Midland Terra Cotta Company.
- It’s been a city landmark since 2008. Bulldozers can go play elsewhere.
In case you’re wondering what used to be in the space where the diner was, it was a bar and hotel owned by Frank Schoeninger, the same German-via-Wisconsin transplant who put up the Village Theater. He was also the bartender. In the photo above, you can see the building sporting a big ad for Edelweiss Beer, a local brew made — not surprisingly — down in Pilsen. If you want to taste some of that history today, you have to drive up to to Winnipeg and order a Drewrys Extra Dry.