Looking at two buildings on the "most endangered buildings" list Preservation Chicago released this month, I paused at the irony:
In the Six Corners area on the North Side, a ministry wants to buy and sink millions into the Portage Theater--even though the theater is viable and functioning as...well... a theater. But on the South Side's, the historic 125-year-old Unity Hall has been used as a church for decades and is listed for sale at $225,000, but can't draw a congregation who can fix it up.
Until it can, Unity Hall, 3140 S. Indiana, waits there empty, its facade hides behind a mask of protective scaffolding; its upper windows shuttered as if in shame.
And there is something shameful about a building like Unity Hall falling into such neglect. The building is a city landmark--the bronze plaque sits right beneath a mailbox at the top of the front steps--and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. As a protected city landmark the vacant hall can't be easily torn down.
The eight-member commission approved a preliminary designation that would protect all exterior elevations and roof lines of the entire building--which includes retail space and apartments as well as the theater--the auditorium "in its entirety", including its spatial volume, floors, walls, decoration and ornament; and the theater's outer lobby, inner lobby and a connecting rotunda.
However, the Portage's marquee, which was taken in the 1960s from the fallen Tivoli Theater on east 63rd St. and is not original to the building, would not be included as a protected feature in the designation.
The landmarks commission's decision came last Thursday, four days after this blog reported the theater, 4042 N.
Now this is good news: Stony Island, the obscure 1978 filmed-in-Chicago drama about a R&B band looking to hit the big time will finally make its way to DVD this month.
Seldom seen since its 1978 release, the 97-minute movie features great music and a cast that included sax virtuoso Gene Barge, future Bangles member Susanna Hoffs, Dennis Franz, Rae Dawn Chong and, of course, great music and loads of South Side Chicago locations and architecture that have been lost or majorly altered in the 33 years since the film hit the silver screen. At the end of the above clip, you see the old 63rd and Stony Jackson Park "L" terminus. The station was demolished in the early 1980s and tracks between Stony Island and Cottage Grove were demolished in the 1990s.
Stony Island was directed by South Side native Andrew Davis, who would go on to direct the made-in-Chicago film The Fugitive, starring Harrison Ford. In the above clip we see Davis' real-life brother, the talented musician Richie Davis, as character Richie Bloom. The man in the brim, bell-bottoms and stacks is co-star Edward "Stony" Robinson, as singer Kevin Tucker.
In a surprise move, the city plans to ask a commission to grant preliminary landmark status to the Portage Theater--a decision that could complicate a congregation's controversial plans to purchase and significantly alter the 92-year-old North Side movie house.
Staff from the Historic Preservation Division of the city's Department of Housing and Economic Development will ask the Commission on Chicago Landmarks to confer the designation at the commission's meeting Thursday, according to an agenda posted online. If the proposed preliminary designation includes the marquee, facade and interiors of the building, approval by the commission could virtually forbid alteration or removal of those elements while a permanent designation is worked out.
The Portage's future came into question last month when word surfaced that Chicago Tabernacle, an Albany Park-based ministry, made an offer to purchase the still-functioning movie theater building at 4042 N. Milwaukee and convert it into a place of worship.