In Decay

[pullquote quote=”Take a lunch break and go see this…let it into your soul, and let it do what good art does. Let it move you in all different directions. ” credit=”Terri Hemmert”]When you go back to the old neighborhood, and see buildings that used to be a big part of your life, sitting empty and falling apart, it’s like seeing an old friend ravaged by illness. Schools, churches, factories, theatres and hospitals that once was the center of community life, now vandalized and abandoned, are a reminder of the mortality of the people and places we love…and our own expiration date. I heard about a photograph of the interior of the Uptown Theatre. During the 1970’s I saw so many great shows there. Roxy Music, Elvis Costello, Frank Zappa, Bob Marley & The Wailers, The Ramones, Genesis and Peter Gabriel, the Tubes, and The Kinks. Greats like Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman played there when Swing was king.

Every time I go by that abandoned entertainment palace, I wish I could sneak a peek. Always wonder how it looks now after sitting empty for decades.

Well I saw a photo of the theater taken by Eric Holubow. In the magazine it looked beautiful, colorful, and restored. I knew that couldn’t be possible. So I made it over to the Chicago Cultural Center to see an exhibit of Holubow’s work, In Decay – Stitching America’s Ruins. The photo of the Uptown Theater is quite large, and colorful, and actually beautiful. It almost looks like a painting. The photo is taken from the stage looking out to the empty seats. But a closer looks shows the water damage from frozen pipes, the light coming in from outside, the major damage of what was once a beautiful auditorium. Very sad. But these photos are worth seeing.

The exhibit is only there until July 8th, but if you’re downtown, take a few minutes to see these amazing photographs. They come from Detroit, Indiana, New York State, Ohio, and our own city. Looking at these once grand houses of worship now in ruins, gets one to think of all the living that went on in that space…the weddings, baptisms, funerals, prayers of joy and of grief. The factory that was the workplace for thousands, now empty. The school study hall where generations of students had a difficult time staying awake or out of trouble, and where dreams of their future were born. And the humble nurses’ kitchen at Michael Reese Hospital. Spaces where people lived. Now ruins. Most of these were once grand displays of architecture and hope. Some still stand, some have been demolished. But it has set my imagination on fire. Take a lunch break and go see this.

It’ free. It’s on the first floor. But do it soon. And let it into your soul, and let it do what good art does. Let it move you in all different directions.

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  • Heidi Bresilge

    Terri, I know just what you mean, and you described that feeling to a tee. It’s been almost 1 year since my husband and I moved from our home in Elmhurst~ the home I grew up in as a child, as did my children. I had a n errand to do in Elmhurst last Saturday and after going back and forth…”should I drive past the old house? Naw. Well…ok I will…” I did drive by and was driven to tears. It looked like a scene from the show Life After People. Where were all my perennials that took years to establish? Besides the 3 huge SUVs parked there, all I could see were weeds taller than me~ everywhere. The whole yard and garden was a total, unloved mess. It hurts to see our loved ones fall apart, even if they aren’t human.

  • Truron

    There is no light coming in from the outside – all the lights you see are the original light sources coming from positions around the auditorium which can illuminate in a spectrum of colors. The theatre is damaged, but very stable and had a new roof and support work done just 3 years ago. It waiting to be renovated which should start next year according to Alderman Cappelman. They are waiting for the last of the funding to come through. Things have finally aligned for the Uptown. Please update your story – also for current info check out Friends of the Uptown on Facebook at

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