Balaban and Katz, architects who were largely responsible for popularizing the motion picture palace, and owned and operated dozens from the 1920′s to the 1970′s, found their crown jewel to their theater chain in Chicago’s own Uptown Theatre. The Spanish Revival style design was loosely derived from Spanish Baroque architecture and included nearly 4,500 seats, making it the second largest movie palace in the United Stated — after New York’s own Radio City Music Hall. Consisting of a five story main lobby and two other side lobbies, an eight story facade, a large Wulitzer organ, marble statuary and oil paintings, much of its inner glories were sold off to pay for the care of place as the reputation of the area slowly declined and the cost of upkeep, its size, and competition with the Riviera and Aragon became financial hardships.
Its original venue being silent films complete with full orchestra , the stage has also seen musicals, concerts, television shows, company meetings…
In the 1970′s, the Uptown was used, in large, as a concert venue, having such memorable concerts as: Bruce Springstein in 1980, Frank Zappa, Bob Marley, carlos Santana, Jerry Garcia, Elvis Costello, Prince, Dire Straits, Peter Gabriel, Charlie Daniels’ Band, The Kinks, and Foreigner. It was, however, about this time that the theater was sold, boarded up, and plans as to what to do with the massive, archaic behemouth were being formed. Frozen water pipes, however, put a halt to that when they burst inside the theater causing severe damage.
Though the Uptown currently stands protected as one of Chicago’s landmarks, its future still remains uncertain as efforts are underway to raising money (some have speculated nearly 4 million) needed for the restoration.
Some really fantastic images of the interior of the Uptown can be found on Undercity.org, a website dedictated to exploration of abandoned and hidden urban sites by a “guerilla historian in Gotham”. Second City Warehouse on flickr also has some images, and were actually the first ones Gilding found which sent her on this web-historic search on the Uptown.