Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Uptown in Chicago

I miss New York. Chicago is small and I bought in to the idea that a city is only a city if you get lost every time you go in it. I guess I better start getting lost in Chicago again and remind myself that it's not just Belmont, Southport and Uptown. Speaking of which...

John and I celebrated our first anniversary together on Sunday evening. Much to my surprise, he had arranged for us to sneak illegally into the abandoned Uptown Theater and spend a couple hours exploring it. If you're unaware of John's documentary on the subject (which would mean you have never spoken to him before), then you wouldn't know that the theater is the largest movie palace in the United States, a last decaying remnant of the decadence that was the 1920's.

Though the theater is falling to pieces in some places (a chunk of plaster here, a warped wood-panelled wall there), it maintains an overwhelming beauty that literally takes your breath away. It's hard to believe that architecture in the United States every took on such European, indulgent attention to detail. Where chandeliers no longer illuminate the towering ceilings, the handwork of hundreds of artists hides veiled in cavernous shadows, forgotten.

The most striking thing about being in a place like the Uptown--a place abandoned, forgotten--where thousands of people walk by each day, unaware of what sits inside, is how it simultaneously is ravaged by, and untouched by, time. It decays, yes, but somehow it feels as if you might shut your eyes, reopen them, and find yourself in another time--maybe wearing your best outfit and waiting in the ticket line for a seat to the latest talkie; children running between the brass posts and velvet ropes, soon to be stowed away in the theater's nursery; the mechanics and the electricians downstairs, toiling in the heat by Titanic-sized boilers and fans, unwittingly taking in Legionnaire's air and a stinted life; the women in their Mezzanine boxes, chattering and fanning themselves; the projectionist's assistant struggling up flights upon flights of stairs to deliver the burdening film reel and when he reaches the top, he can stare from the box--ten stories above the rest of the audience, the rest of the world--and watch.

But then you open your eyes and you remember that it's 2007. The theater is abandoned, crumbling under the weight of years of neglect, and life goes on. Who knows what will happen with this amazing place, but I'm glad that I've been inside and seen it with my own eyes. Oh, and Bob, the building manager, said he'd happily sneak anyone else in who wants to go. :)

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