Last weekend, I came back to a vintage venue in Lakeview where I spent a lot of time when I lived on the North Side, The Vic Theatre, 3145 N. Sheffield Avenue.
Memories flooded as I walked up the stairs to a balcony I remembered well…I used to go to dance at ‘The Vic,’ then known as Clubland, in the mid-80’s, catch a double feature and an adult beverage for $10 in the 90’s, and most recently, attended a kickass concert by Herb Alpertand his wife, Lani Hall.
But as I found out, The Vic Theatre has been entertaining Chicagoans for more than a century.
Through The Decades…
According to theEncyclopedia of Chicago History, from 1900 to the 1920s, Chicago enjoyed an explosion of popular culture. Movies, amusement parks, vaudeville, cabarets, dance halls, and music deeply influenced the Jazz Age.
The Victoria Theater, according to The Vic’s website, was one of those entertainment venues, opened in 1912 as an alternative to the more expensive fare playing in Chicago’s notorious downtown venues, and built to host vaudeville and touring stage shows. The luxurious, five-story vaudeville house held 1,550 polished mahogany seats, and the lobby floor and staircases were set in Italian marble, according to their website. The theater was designed by John E.O. Pridmore, an immigrant from England who came to the United States in 1880 and eventually settled in Chicago in 1883 at the age of 16. Handmade English quarry tile lined the walls.
Decline and Rebirth
The Victoria Theatre, or ‘The Vic”– as it’s now known – would prove to be one of the more adaptable and resilient buildings in town. As their website notes, the eventual decline of touring vaudeville shows in the 1920s led to the sale of the building to new owners who, in an attempt to cater to a recent influx of German immigrants to the neighborhood, changed the name to The German Theater and began presenting German operettas. The end of the 1920s coincided with the onset of The Great Depression. During the Depression and beyond, the Plasterers Institute kept the space in operating condition during otherwise lean years.
But until the 1980’s, the venue alternatively stood vacant, then was a movie theater, showing X-rated, Spanish, and Indian movies, and in 1984, was turned into a dance club venue called Clubland.
Rebirthed for a new generation
In November 1988, Michael Butler produced the musical “Hair” at The Vic to celebrate the show’s 20th anniversary. The production ran until February 1989. In the mid-1990s, on nights without a concert booking, Brew & View was added showing second-run and cult films which allowed customers to enjoy pizza and cocktails while watching films. This incarnation of The Vic lasted more than 20 years.
Today.. An eclectic mix for all
In 2000, Jam Productions took over management and vowed to book “all kinds of acts.” A short list of those who have performed include Jerry Seinfeld, Kenny G, John Prine, Pat Metheny, 10,000 Maniacs, Laura Nyro, Bonnie Raitt, Johnny Winter, Basia, Louie Anderson, Lyle Lovett, Richard Lewis, Randy Newman, David Crosby, Joan Baez, Billy Squier, Meat Loaf, Todd Rundgren, They Might Be Giants, Joan Armatrading, Dead Can Dance, and Sonic Youth. For upcoming performances and tickets, click here.
Alison Moran-Powers and Dean’s Team Chicago