Credit: Carey Primeau

Uptown Theater

Lawrence and Broadway

In Sunset Boulevard (1950), when Norma Desmond is reminded that she used to be big, the washed-up screen siren snaps, “I am big! It’s the pictures that got small.” The same might be said of the Uptown, a lavish and historic 1925 movie palace that seats a staggering 4,381 people—there isn’t a blockbuster big enough to fill the place now. It was converted into a concert venue in the 1970s (the last time I was inside it, so were the Kinks), but then in 1981 a burst water pipe caused extensive flooding and shut it down. Thirty years later the Uptown has been designated a Chicago landmark and added to the National Register of Historic Places. Jam Productions bought the mammoth theater in 2008, but a renovation price tag of some $40 million has delayed its reopening. Harry Osterman, newly elected alderman for the 48th Ward, reports that he, Mayor Emanuel, and 46th Ward alderman James Cappleman are all interested in creating an entertainment district that would encompass not only a restored Uptown but the Riviera, the Aragon, the Kinetic Playground, and the now-empty Borders building south of the theater. If that provides enough of an incentive for Jam to move forward, the city might once again enjoy this architectural gem. —J.R. Jones