There are a lot of people to please when it comes to the renovation of Logan Square’s Congress Theater (2135 N. Milwaukee Ave.). Local residents want to be sure their houses aren’t bumping with bass at night. History enthusiasts want the architecture of the building preserved. Not to mention patrons’ hopes that the venue is restored to a safe place to catch their favorite bands.
On Saturday, Jan. 24, 1st Ward Ald. Joe Moreno and developer Michael Moyer invited local residents to peruse the new plans and tour the theater, which is in the same state as when it shuttered its doors—confetti littered on the floor and all.
Renovations will continue from here on out, with expected completion in about 2 years, according to Moyer, with Moreno adding that they’ll open select aspects before “every corner is completed.”
Most notably to the streetscape, the vertical “Congress” marquee out front will be replaced.*
Throughout the afternoon, attendees chatted across clothed tables in the lobby and sang the renovations’ praises to TV news crews covering the 3-hour open house.
The to-do was formally planned (complimentary sandwiches included) but informally executed. Residents wandered the theater at-will and no official announcements were made by Moreno or Moyer.
The re-development comes after a long list of complaints against the theater’s former owner, and is angling toward a re-brand as a nearly 90-year-old neighborhood gem. The ballroom and lobby will see complete renovation, and the rest of the building will be home to a 32-room inn and city-sanctioned affordable housing, restaurants and retail.
The original construction took place in 1925 as a 2,904-seat movie theater with 17 storefronts and 56 apartments.
Moyer’s resume as a developer includes the historical restoration of the Cadillac Palace in the Loop. Moyer says he hopes to get Congress Theater on the national register of historical places.
“This building has challenges that are very unique,” Moyer said, agreeing that the basement could be described as “scary” and ventilation in the lobby is going to be a tricky, and sticky, business.
“The least amount of money I will have invested in this block is when I bought the building,” he said.
But he maintains that he believes it is a going to be just that—an investment.
“This will be an economic engine for this neighborhood,” he said. “When I walked in here 1.5 years ago, I was like, ‘How am I gonna do this?’ but I needed to buy it.
“This building is at a tipping point, being relative to putting a dollar in and hopefully getting a dollar back.”
Jeff Strong, who lives just across the street, said he’s been very concerned about the project but is happy with the plans so far.
“I’ve been following who’s been interested, and I’d say this is my No. 1 choice of what would happen here,” he said. “I was concerned about the historical significance, both architecturally and aesthetically, and things like how the old management had big, heavy dance music concerts.
Strong said that he could “feel the bass, not just hear it” at his house 300 yards away.
“They had speakers that the building simply couldn’t handle. It looked like Godzilla was trying to escape.”
Scott Watrach, a lifelong Logan Square resident of 46 years, said he’s happy to have a venue close to home again.
“I saw a lot of good concerts here and I was sad to see it close,” he said. “It’s nice to walk here versus going downtown.”
* Correction: This story originally stated that the seats in the ballroom would be replaced. However, no plan is immediately apparent for restoring seats in the ballroom. The story has been amended to reflect this.