Wednesday, September 25, 2013


Update: A reader writes that "Just got off the phone with the alderman's office, this is just a temporary replacement until the terra cotta is completely restored. They (JAM) didn't want to leave the area bare for a long time."

We admit it, we got spoiled.  With so many beautifully done, painstaking building restorations at and around Lawrence and Broadway, we figured the rebuilding of the Riviera Theater's facade would measure up to and stand proudly next to:
So we have to say that the photo and information we got from a reader today regarding the Riviera's facade left us feeling a little .... flat.  A reader sent in the photo above and says:
"The workers have installed the new façade at the Riviera Theater.  It's not real brick or terra-cotta.  It's a paper or plastic wrap designed to look like the original."
Say whaaaaa?  Are we in Vegas, or Frontier Town at Universal Studios?

We went by to take a look.  Seriously, it looks good -- really good -- from street level.  We couldn't tell that it was a replication instead of the real thing.  But if you compare this photo from May 2008 (below), you can definitely tell things are a lot less 3D than they used to be.

So, no more diaper on the Riv.  The facade has been rebuilt, and it's presumably safer and complies with building codes.  To the casual observer, it looks like a complete restoration.  That's all good news, very good.  We are happy to see the Riv's facade whole and secure again.  Our two concerns with the way it's been done:
  1. How long will it last?  The original terra cotta made it from the 1920s into the 21st century with barely a hiccup.  How durable are the materials used in this restoration?
  2. Uptown has already lost some significant parts of its architectural past.  We can't say it's a good thing when pictures of our treasured buildings start replacing the actual buildings.  At what point does it start becoming Disney's Main Street?


  1. I saw this yesterday from the Lawrence El stop and thought it looked great - until I actually got to Lawrence and Broadway. Fake, fake, fake.

    I am really, really hoping this is temporary until the terra cotta is repaired, replaced, etc... If it is permanent, I fear they will be really horrible stewards of the Uptown as well.

  2. This is the company, Jam Productions, that is looking for tens of millions of dollars to rehab the Uptown Theatre? If they cannot even do a simple façade without a Disneyland Mickey Mouse job, imagine the horrible things they would do to the Uptown Theatre if they are given that money. Horrible, horrible neighbors. Shame on JAM production!

  3. Not huge shock that this would be half-assed, really. Nice that it's safe and looks decent to the unassuming eye, but there's a right way and a wrong way to do things...

  4. Where is the original terra cotta? This question was addressed to the alderman at the Zoning & Development Committee meeting on Aug. 26. Hasn't any city entity pursued these concerns? The building permit for 4746 N RACINE AVE was for "TUCKPOINTING AND MASONRY REPAIRS TO EXTERIOR WALL AND PARAPET WALL" only. This building is orange-listed ( and in a National Historic Register District. Given the lack of a powerful ordinances to protect heritage properties, the City of Chicago needs to be more aggressive up front in demanding that owners comply with the terms of their permits in ways that completely safeguard their historic features.

  5. JAM is awful. Rahm needs to intimidate them into line.

  6. I do find this darkly amusing. Is JAM the Thorek of music promoters or is Thorek the JAM of hospitals? We have JAM as our good neighbor for North Uptown and Thorek as our good neighbor for South Uptown.

    As for the Rahmulan doing anything about this I just dunno. He might like the Potemkin village aspect of it. It sorta emulates his mayoralty. It strives for the Rahmulan facade of change while in back it's the same ole' thang.

    I've just closed my eyes again
    Climbed aboard the dream weaver train
    Driver take away my worries of today
    And leave tomorrow behind.

    Now I'm going to walk on by and see what this actually looks like.

  7. Just got off the phone with the alderman's office, this is just a temporary replacement until the terra cotta is completely restored. They (JAM) didn't want to leave the area bare for a long time.

    1. Thanks for the update, Loretta Rode, I was really hoping it was just a temporary fix. Better than a bag at least!

  8. It actually looks purdy good from street level. If the aldermanic missive added above is true then it's a good short term solution as the terra cotta is being repaired.

    As for Rahm my Potemkin Village comment is still true.

  9. "the City of Chicago needs to be more aggressive up front in demanding that owners comply with the terms of their permits in ways that completely safeguard their historic features"

    Just because a property is an "orange" property or because it is on the National Register of Historic places, gives no weight as to whether the city can enforce permits concerning their so called "historic features". Example, my orange rated home needed replacement of a porch pillar. I used fiberglass instead of wood. Why, cheaper & won't rot. All in compliance. If I had to use historically correct materials, it would have cost me much more. And should I use "historically correct" materials so people who walk down the street in front of my home can get that warm fuzzy feeling inside?

    People talk here as if they own "our treasured buildings". But you don't. You don't pay the maintenance, you don't pay the taxes, you don't pay the insurance. You pay nothing. But somehow or other you believe that you've got a sayso in decisions about other people's property.

    Has anyone considered who else would buy Nicks? Except for the interesting facade, it's a giant wood truss building that is probably at the end of it's useful life. There are some serious defects in the columns as noted by previous photos.

    In actuality, there are very few commercial structures that get landmarked unless there is significant weight of evidence showing the building to be landmark worthy. This is because when a building is landmarked, all future repairs to the building must be landmark quality repairs which can be prohibitly expensive. Example: an orange rated building can repair and replace its aluminum framed windows. A landmarked building has to go back to wooden casement windows.

    Lastly, the only thing an orange rated building gets is a 90 day demolition delay courtesy of the city. A building on the "historic register" does not mean it is a red rated or a "landmarked" building. Historic register is just a designation and nothing else.

    Oh and Pirate, while you're at it why don't you see how many tickets JAM can sell for a Gary Wright concert. I'm sure people will be hammering down the doors and round the block for this two hit wonder.

  10. Toto saidL "You pay nothing. But somehow or other you believe that you've got a sayso in decisions about other people's property."

    Wrong. Many of "our treasured buildings" are in TIF districts created expressly to fund their preservation. While we may not own them, we are shareholders in their restoration for at least 23 years.

    It's always the people who live outside of Uptown who are most adamant in telling us how we should feel and act about our neighborhood.

  11. Toto,

    attacking me is one thing, but mocking the singer who brought us "Dreamweaver" is just wrong.

    Attacking Gary Wright just makes me go crazy.

  12. I am very glad to hear that the Riviera's will be repair and replacing the tiles at the top of their building.

    Caring Neighbor: As far as I can tell JAM has never received TIF funds for renovation of the Riviera Theatre. (Note: There has been approximately $1.6 million spent from TIF funds on stabilizing the exterior of the Uptown Theatre. As to whether JAM will eventually be the beneficiary of this money probably will depend upon if they will be the eventual developer of the Uptown Theatre or if another developer is found who can significantly contribute towards the renewal project.)

    Now that we have that cleared away, I am going to assume you had a bad day yesterday, because you generally are not so snippy when it comes to commenters who live outside of Uptown. Yes I don't live in Uptown, but nearby. I do frequent many businesses in Uptown and visit friends often.

    I do know this. A lot of people mis-understand Landmarking and Historic designations. And I will repeat this. Just because a building is on the national register of historic places or is in a historic district does not give it any protection unless the building is specifically designated a landmark by the city of Chicago. (This is a true statement and not a harsh opinion.)

    If you want buildings protected by landmark status, you should identify the buildings and then go out to the community and advocate for it. To wait until a building is sold and demolition is possible, you are starting from an inferior position. And by the time you round up a coalition of people in support of landmarking, it is likely too late.

    By the same token if you want historic property renovated, remember landmark status may hamstring the proposed re-developer by making the cost of repairs and renovation drastically more expensive due to the requirement that only landmark quality repairs and replacements be done.

    Now as for Pirate: Whip it Good -- Devo