Friday, August 1, 2008

Uptown (Theatre) Update

(Photo by mycatispunk at flickr)

[Editor's note: Jerry Mickelson of JAM Productions sent the following email and asked that it be shared with the Friends of the Uptown. If his purchase is approved by the court, JAM will become the new owner of the UPTOWN THEATRE in Chicago. His message is fowarded here in its entirety.]

July 31, 2008

Words can't properly express my feelings of gratitude for the incredible efforts that all of you who are part of Friends of the Uptown have put forth on behalf of saving the Uptown Theatre. As all of you know, this is not just a theatre but a work of art that will never be built again which must be preserved. This masterpiece of [architects] Rapp & Rapp should live on and never ever be allowed to deteriorate to the pitiful condition it is in today.

I immediately fell in love with the Uptown Theatre the very first time I set foot in the lobby in 1974. I knew then there was something very special about this building and have felt that way ever since.

It took some time for me to convince Plitt Theatres [the owner at the time] to let Jam use the Uptown Theatre for concerts but I did succeed in 1975 when we presented the Tubes on Halloween. Some of the acts that Jam brought to the Uptown included Genesis, Bob Marley, Steve Miller, Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, Leon Russell, Foreigner, Boston, the Grateful Dead, Hall & Oates, Lou Reed, the Electric Light Orchestra, the Kinks, Supertramp, Roxy Music, Bryan Ferry, Frank Zappa, Peter Gabriel, Rod Stewart, the Allman Brothers, Dire Straits, Rick James and Santana. The last concert that Jam presented was with the J. Geils Band on December 19, 1981 since the owner did not pay the heating bill, the washrooms were barely working and there were other issues which we felt made the theatre no longer safe for anyone to use.

As we all know, since that date the theatre began to slowly deteriorate. The Uptown fell into the hands of some very onerous owners during this chapter in time who did nothing but continue to let the Uptown waste away. I met with [Rudy] Mulder and [John] Terzakis and also with the not-for-profit run by Michael Morrison and then by Paul Warshauer to try to strike a deal for Jam to become involved with the theatre but all of them were impossible to deal with and ultimately each one of them helped contribute to the sad state of the Uptown as it sits today. It wasn't until Bob Lunn took control that things for the Uptown started to move in the right direction.

Over this period of time Alderman Mary Ann Smith was there to protect the Uptown Theatre through this very dark phase of ownership. Without her a developer would have torn down this treasure but thankfully Alderman Smith stood up to defend this landmark time and time again. Through her efforts the City came to understand the importance and significance of the Uptown Theatre.

It's only been one day (now going on two) since the foreclosure sale occurred. You should know there was only one bidder who showed up on July 29 to purchase the Uptown Theatre and that was UTA II, a company whose members include but are not limited to Arny Granat and myself. While initially being surprised that we were the lone bidders, we fully understand why others did not show up. The fact of the matter is that the Uptown Theatre is a daunting project that faces many challenges for it to re-open. Not only will this be a very expensive project, it will take an incredible amount of time and effort to put the pieces of this intricate puzzle together in order to ensure the Uptown Theatre's future.

We don't have all the answers today about how all of this will come together but we do know a couple of things; (1) the Uptown Theatre now has owners who truly care about saving and preserving this architectural gem; and (2) we will reach out to all of you at the proper time to have you hopefully join with us in our effort. The Uptown Theatre would not still be here today if it wasn't for you and Alderman Smith and probably won't be here in the future without you and the Alderman.

Jerry Mickelson


  1. I am certainly hopeful, but I must say the Riv and the Vic, while great for concerts don't show a whole lot of restoration going on. I love the Riv, I've seen amazing shows there. I'd be totally ok if a $5 theatre restoration surchange was added to every ticket. Pump up the Jam, man.

  2. Thank your lucky stars that the 46th ward ends a few blocks south of this landmark and you have an alderman who cares about the progress and preservation of a great neighborhood.

  3. Thank goodness this theatre is in Smith's ward. If it was Shillers, she would of turned it into one giant halfway house, without fixing it up at all to make it safe.

    Rats? No, those are PETS... look, that old ticket window would be GREAT for crack deals! People could just walk right up. Fantastic! Be sure to use those little plastic bead bags though, since I made sure those won't get banned for your use.

    Cops? No worries! They aren't allowed to function in MY ward. No sir-eee!! If those yuppy bad apples don't like getting shot at, too bad, they can move to Lincoln Park then! You have a right to shoot your guns... I wouldn't want to stifle your self expression, it might be considered racist.

    Ugh... sorry, I am just furious that Shiller couldn't be bothered and have the balls to address her consititunets at an emergency safety meeting in HER ward. She makes me sick.

  4. I was woken up this morning by the sound of work being done on the roof of The Uptown. Not sure what they were doing but all of this looks to be very promising.

    Now only if..................Imagine the possibilities if you will.

    1. The new parking lot will be used as parking for events at The Uptown, which means people will be walking from Montrose/Sunnyside to lawrence.

    2. Move the redline stop from Wilson to Montrose and fill the station with cameras so when the gangbagers from the south and North commit a crime in Uptown, the cops might actually be able figure out who did it. As a matter of fact put cameras in Lawrence and Sherridan stops as well.

    3. Build something other then a new highrise Gang HQ at Wilson Yard and fill it with storefronts that will create a pedestrian area from Montrose to Wilson.

    4. Renovate the Wilson stop into a vibrant streetscape with shops along Broadway and Wilson.

    Do all this and Uptown will get it's groove back. Create a safe shopping area from Montrose all the way up to Lawrence. With a new Garage and Redline stop at around Montrose this would make all of this possible. Not cheep but hey, I would rather my money be spent on revitalizing the area instead of creating more voters for Shiller aka, another area for gangs to fight over.

  5. Good news! And good for Mary Ann Smith for helping preserve this landmark.

    Chris, I think the Riv and Vic are in great condition. Considering their age, the facilities are great venues to see a show. Their a concert hall, they're not going to be in pristine condition like a theatre which may show Broadway type shows.

  6. Thanks for all of the updates on this ongoing saga, you've provided a great service to those of us who loved the Uptown but have trouble getting news on the subject. Five or more years ago a friend was approached to do some legal work for a group that was then attmpting to restore the theater and the group wnted my old ticket stubs. Well they got neither because they struck us as not being serious. Thanks again, I linked to your post and blog and I posted Mickelson's letter. I hope to see some more shows in that fantastic old theater.

  7. This is good news. It's a good day for Uptown.

  8. I'm so encouraged by Jerry's post! I didn't know whether the new owners of the Uptown really had an interest in restoring it, but this letter goes a long way toward convincing me. Jerry, PLEASE make sure that you let the community know how we can help. Financially, legally, legislatively, or otherwise... we who live near the theater long for the day when we see it re-opened. Hell, I'll show up and work weekends, if it will help! Juat tell us what you need from us so that this thing doesn't sit empty any longer!

  9. Let the tiff funds pay to remodel it.

    Better than wasting them on WY.

    At least this restored theater would bring revenue to the neighborhood.

  10. Having worked for JAM at the most plebian of positions (mind you: bartender), I gotta call bullshit on this one. The Riv is a dump; the bar is run like lemonade stand under the watchful eye of abhorrently unstable management. I'm not going to even mention what the audience never sees (read: beer cooler). Unless the city kicks in a TON, why would you waste 42 million to open a McDonalds next to a McDonalds? It was a smart move, but don't fool yourselves...So stop with the utilitarian/philanthropic endeavor bullshit. Will it be the Lady or the Tiger? Mothballs or Duct Tape? If you scroll to earlier blogs, Irish Pirate probably has the best comment regarding eminent domain.

  11. I celebrated my 18th birthday at the Uptown with Springsteen. The balcony rocked. Literally. Can't wait for the restoration and the encore. ;-)

  12. give them tif funds for both theaters

  13. This e-mail news comes from today's Friends of the Uptown/Uptown Adviser Newletter. To stay informed of the latest news on the theatre, go to Uptown Adviser

  14. this all warms my heart to its core.

    JAM, i am glad to hear that you have a personal interest in seeing this project through to fruition. those of us that weren't in uptown in its heyday are so excited to make our own memories in that beautiful gem of a theatre. we, the community, are behind you completely!

    oh, and chris, i agree completely. i would gladly give $5 per show to help restore that place!

  15. Jam holds shows at the Riv and Aragon, and bought the Uptown to prevent Live Nation from coming in and competing with the latter's own "Fillmore Chicago" chain. Jerry Mickelson can wax rhapsodic until the second encore, but Jam's purchase essentially means that the Uptown will stay pretty much in the same state as it is presently.

    If the Uptown does open for shows, it will to be restored to the bare minimum requirements and be run in the same way that Schadenfreude (above) describes from his/her experience working at the Riv.

    In short, how many $8 shit 8 oz beers in plastic cups, $35 T-shirts, and $15 ticket service charges does it take to get the public to realize what a scam the rock concert industry has become?

  16. Oh yeah, well then how come NOBODY ELSE came up and put $$ where their mouth is?

  17. tomcat, the reason is because there is absolutely no parking for that house. Imagine the parking nightmare on a Sat. nite with all 3 venues at capacity. Earlier parking plans included possibly buying the tire store across the street (they wouldn't sell), or buying the building where Demera (sp?) is. That building would've been razed for a parking garage, but the deal fell through. Good news is that JAM recently won a huge lawsuit against Clear Channel (google "jam wins clear channel") and has about 90 million to kick around. In other words, if no city money comes through (thank you Wilson Yard fiasco/pit) don't be surprised to hear JAM crying poor. P.S. Bell's should be back at the Mill by now.,0,7243566.story

  18. There Uptown sits in a different TIF district than the Wilson Yards project. There is more than sufficient money left in it to help fund a good portion of the Uptown's restoration and the funds should be tapped to that end.

    However if JAM is going to be getting $20M to help with the restoration out of the TIF I think the city would demand the work be as complete as possible.

  19. I was under the impression that the only reason the auction finally happened was due to pressure/intervention/threat from the city to make a decision one way or the other. The only reason they would step in is to see some serious progress on this building no?

    Also, on the parking situation. I know there are nowhere near the required amount of parking spaces required at present. But I also think that Jam would be sensible enough to juggle booking for the two venues so that ideally they would not overlap.

  20. You can also park on the sidewalk in front of my house for $25.

  21. there's a full-page article in the reader this week about why we should be glad that JAM bought the uptown instead of someone else.

    just letting you know...carry on.