Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Condos could replace old theater
September 12, 2006

BY DAVID ROEDER Business Reporter
Chicago Sun-Times

The Nortown Theater, a once-grand movie house of the Far North Side that has turned into an eyesore, would be torn down and replaced by condominiums under a plan submitted to city officials.

Amrit Patel, who owns several Dunkin' Donuts and Baskin Robbins locations, wants to replace the theater at 6320 N. Western with a 70-unit, six-story building. It also would contain two small theaters to show films for Pakistani and Indian audiences.

The old theater is south of the Devon Avenue business strip, a congested center of commerce for those two ethnic groups.

Patel said that since buying the theater a couple years ago, he has spent $600,000 on various plans. He intended to preserve the building, "but the numbers just didn't work. It would cost so much more to do that."

The Nortown hasn't shown a film since 1990. It was built in 1931 as a single auditorium seating more than 2,000 people. It later was partitioned into three theaters.

Most of Chicago's old-time movie houses are gone, and trouble is never far from the rest. The Three Penny Cinema at 2424 N. Lincoln has closed in a dispute with the city over amusement taxes, and the owner of the Esquire theater, 58 E. Oak, wants to demolish it and build boutique stores.

The Nortown had a nautical theme, with sea horses and mermaids in the decor. Patel said a Pakistani community group that used to own it removed some of the architectural features. He said he'd try to incorporate into the new building some of what remains.

The huge Nortown sign was taken down years ago. In the 1990s, the building was home to a group called Rest for the Weary Ministries, but since then it has been boarded up.

Alderman backs idea

Patel said he has bank financing in place and is ready to start work as soon as permits are issued. He has requested a zoning change and expects a hearing Oct. 19 before the Chicago Plan Commission.

The project is within the 50th Ward represented by Ald. Bernard Stone, who called it a significant improvement for the business strip. Stone said the old theater had been neglected for too long to be saved.

In zoning matters, support from the local alderman usually determines how the planning department and ultimately the City Council handles a proposed change.

Patel hired the Chicago firm VOA Associates Inc. to design the brick-skinned replacement building. The site would include space for stores along Western and about 67 parking spaces. Condo prices will range from $150,000 to more than $300,000, Patel said.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

This week I met with Jonathan Fine of Preservation Chicago He shared stories of what his group has done to try and save endangered buildings around the city. It's incredible to me how years and years of Chicago history continue to be destroyed by short-sighted city officials and greedy developers.

The teardown of the Nortown is particularly ironic given the fact that our current alderman Berny Stone sits on the City Council Committee on Historical Landmark Preservation. Whis isn't our TIF money being used to save buildings like the Nortown, or at least preserve the facade?

Coincidentally, I had an email from David Balaban, a descendant of the family who built the Nortown and many other historic theaters around Chicago. View his websites at: and

Monday, September 04, 2006

Two weeks ago I called VOA to see what I could find out about the status of the Nortown project. I never actually talked with anyone in person, but through phone messages I left my information, and received a message in return. The message was that they couldn't talk about the project due to client confidentiality, but would try to connect me with someone who could give me information. After I heard that I called back and told them I'd appreciate any information I could get. No response as of yet.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

On Thursday August 9th there was a fire in the theater, the fire department was there at approximately 6:00 p.m. No additional information at this time.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

I was very disturbed to find this bit of information today. Here's the link to a story about plans to tear down the Nortown Theater and replace it with condos. Admittedly, the building is not in good condition, but the project plans that were published last year incorporated the theater rather than tearing it down.

It's sad that over the past years the building has been so unappreciated that it has been allowed to slip into its current dilapidated state, which makes it easier for some to say "it's blighted, just tear it down".

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Text: November 9, 1930

Chicago Daily Tribune

Chicago's First Marine Movie

Above is an interior view of Chicago's newest talkie temple now under construction near Devon and Western by the Publix-Balaban and Katz Interests. J.E.O. Pridmore of Chicago is architect. An exterior view was given in this section on Sunday, August 10, 1930. The auditorium will be of the atmospheric type but instead of the conventional landscape treatment of sidewalls this new playhouse will have a seascape effect, so that the audience apparently are seated in full view of the ocean with lighthouse effect and ships passing in the offing. It is claimed that this will be the first theater in America with a marine treatment. The combination of water, sky and stars offers an unusual field for unique lighting effects. The theater will have 3500 seats and will cost in the neighborhood of $1,000,000 it is stated. Paschen Bros. are the general contractors. Completion is scheduled for early next year.

Text: August 10, 1930

Chicago's Newest Talkie Temple

J.E.O. Pridmore is architect of the above 3500 seat "North Town" moving picturetheater, now being erected at Devon and Western by the Publix & Katz interests.

Stair rail detail

Cherub detail

Wall and ceiling at stairs leading to upper level

Overall view of upper level, west side of stage

A wall niche on the upper level
Sea serpent and starfish

Seashell motif

Detail on main floor

Griffin / Sea creature motif

The stage on the upper level

This is the first thing I saw when I entered the theater this afternoon.

Exterior of the Nortown Theater.