Old municipal buildings never die--they just turn into theaters

April 11, 2011

The Noyes Art Center, a converted grammar school, houses Evanston's Next and Zarko Theatres. Lookingglass makes its home in the pumping station across from the Water Tower. Latino Chicago Theater (of blessed memory) worked out of a converted firehouse in Pilsen. Now it's a police station that's ready to be "re-purposed," courtesy of the Board, staff and ensemble of the Griffin Theatre.

Griffin announced yesterday that after a protracted campaign (with the support of 40th Ward Alderman Patrick O'Connor), the city has agreed to sell it the abandoned police station at Foster and Damen for the august sum of one dollar. The theater will convert the Bowmanville building into a community arts center, beginning with construction of an 80-seat black box theater next year. The company's goal is to construct a 120-seat mainstage space by 2015. 

Current renovation plans call for a few homages to the building's original use, such as putting the box office in an old holding cell and the administrative offices in what were once interrogation rooms. 
   
The project marks a sort of return to its geographic roots for Griffin, which made its home in nearby Andersonville for more than a dozen years before being driven out in 2005 by rising rents. Since then Griffin, particularly well-known for its work focusing on teens and twenty-somethings, has worked in Lakeview, first at the Athenaeum, then at the old Theatre Building (now Stage 773) and currently at Theatre Wit (previously the Bailiwick Arts Center). 

This latest round of musical buildings brings to five the number of theaters in Edgewater (which encompasses Andersonville, Bowmanville and the lakefront from Foster to Devon), including City Lit and Red Twist on Bryn Mawr near Sheridan, Raven on Clark at Granville and Steep at Berwyn and Broadway.