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Owners of newly restored Thalia Hall in Pilsen hope it will become one of Chicago’s hottest live venues

CHICAGO–The owners of the newly restored historic Thalia Hall in Pilsen hope that it will become one of Chicago’s hottest performance venues while putting the neighborhood on the live scene map.

Located on the intersection of 18th Street and Allport, the long abandoned performance space built in 1892 by Czech architect John Dusek is quickly being restored by the new owners (Craig Golden and Bruce Finkelman from The Empty Bottle) and it will “reopen in 2014 and again serve its community, hosting music, festivals, films and performance.”

Speaking to a small crowd inside the theatre during the Chicago Architectural Foundation’s Open House event, Will Duncan, one of the project organizers/ manager of the John Dusek tavern located right below the hall,and former Longman and Eaglecommander said, “everyone is behind the project and we’re moving quickly to restore the venue to its original working state.”

The venue is part of the Thalia Hall complex, named for the Greek Muse of comedy, is part of a work/performing living space designed by John Dusek in 1892. The architecture of the building mimics some of the most famous buildings in the Czech Republic and the theatre itself is a smaller replica of the Plzen Theatre, from the city which the neighborhood was named after by Czech immigrants in the 19th century.

After several changes in ownership, the building fell into a state of disrepair in the 1960s, and was turned into residential units, leaving the theatre largely abandoned until 2013 when it was bought out by Golden and Finkelman.

The venue will provide a much-needed film and musical performance space in a community that until now has mostly consisted of Mexican bars and nightclubs.

Ramon Gutierrez, 34, a long time Pilsen resident and artist said that “(he’s) glad to see that the neighborhood is becoming more diverse,” Gutierrez said. “We have plenty of art galleries but a big performance space like this could be a game changer.”

One of the most recent events that was held at Talia Hall was the alternative film festival“Dinca Vision Quest” in August 2012.  Although  the event will take place in some another venue this year due to construction, the newly restored Thalia Hall should provide a new home for such events starting in 2014.

Back when the festival was presented last year, Andrew Rosinski the organizer of the event expressed “the excitement that a venue would give the opportunity to such an alternative art, something that most of Chicago is lacking.”

It is amazing what a new attitude and management can do. Back when Dinca Vision Quest was presented, the performance space was still in a great state of disrepair, with the paint from the walls rotting away and the neo-classic gold fixtures of the wall hanging by a thread.

Now, as Duncan speaks to the crowd, one can see a noticeable difference, especially with the new hardwood floors, the restored fixtures, and the cleaned up balcony section which almost brings the venue back to life.

The restored venue will be able to hold up to 4,000 people and is expected to start holding events in the summer of 2014 in hopes that the venue will revive the live performance scene in Pilsen.

“There is still a lot to do,” Duncan pointed out while speaking in front of a video being projected onto the wall that showed some of the progress made so far, “but we are well on our way.”

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Chicago Filmmakers to move its home base

December 12, 2013|Nina Metz | Chicago Closeup

One of the city’s hubs for independent film is poised to move. Chicago Filmmakers is in the process of buying an unoccupied firehouse from the city located in Edgewater at 5720 N. Ridge Ave. — roughly a block north of Hollywood (Avenue).

“For a long time, we’ve been thinking about owning a place,” said executive director Brenda Webb. “We also knew as a not-for-profit that we didn’t have the financial ability to go out and buy some perfect building.” Chicago Filmmakers currently leases space in the Andersonville neighborhood, where it has been located for the last 17 years. A drawback of the current site is that it is not wheelchair accessible.

A longtime resource for indie filmmakers, Chicago Filmmakers provides access to equipment, classes and grants. It is also an art house cinema, specializing in documentaries and non-commercial films, frequently with directors on-hand for post-show Q&As.

As for the site: “We thought it would be great to get a city building either donated or for a very low cost and then put our resources into renovating it,” said Webb.

The firehouse has been unoccupied for the better part of a decade and it shows. Webb has been eyeballing the building since 2008, when she first took a tour. “The paint is peeling. There’s no heat. The basement is full of water,” she said.

The city put a call out for proposals over the summer. “It was a daunting task,” according to Webb. “We had to put down earnest money, which was 10 percent of the appraised value, so $36,000. And we had to have architectural plans.” Which also cost money.

But it was cash well spent. The city selected Chicago Filmmakers, and the plan is set to go to the city council this spring for approval. “Our strategy was not to ask the building for $1, even though other non-profit organizations have done that in the past,” Webb said. “I thought, I’m just going to consider that earnest money gone — meaning, the Chicago Filmmakers proposal has the organization paying $36,000 for the building. An additional $600,000 will be spent on renovations, Webb said, adding, “Some of that money we will have to raise, but it’s not a pie-in-the-sky figure.”

Plans call for the new screening room to occupy the old fire truck bay and be roughly the size of the current screening room, between 75 and 99 seats. Webb estimates it will take eight months to a year to complete the rehab.

Chicago Filmmakers produces annual events including Reeling (which spotlights gay and lesbian film) and the Onion City Experimental Film and Video Festival. On Friday the cinema presents its 5th Annual Seen & Heard Music Video Showcase.