• Eric Holubow
  • Downstaging Uptown

Last Saturday I went with my 83-year-old grandmother to see Eric Holubow‘s photography exhibit “In Decay—Stitching America’s Ruins” at the Chicago Cultural Center. My grandmother grew up in Uptown and used to spend her Saturday afternoons going to the Uptown Theatre, where she’d spend ten cents on a vaudeville show and talkie picture. When she stood in front of Holubow’s photograph Downstaging Uptown, she said, “Oohhh, the lobby was so beautiful! It was like a palace with gorgeous frescoes and marble floors. Mies van der Rohe said ‘less is more.’ But in these kinds of theaters, more is more.”

The Uptown Theatre opened in 1925 with 4,381 seats and 46,000 square footage. It was the heart of Uptown’s entertainment district (a district that Rahm wants to revive). But as the middle class moved from Chicago to the suburbs, the theater rapidly lost its audience. It officially closed after a water pipe burst in 1981. Downstaging Uptown depicts the theater’s opulent decay. Every inch of the place is colored with decorative columns, ornate carvings resembling church organs, and peeling paint. It’s a gorgeous, melancholy, and nostalgic photograph.