Playhouse to open in ‘Jefferson’ building


The Jefferson Playhouse will open next month on the site of the first movie theater in Jefferson Park in the 100-year-old building at 4766 N. Milwaukee Ave.

The Windy City Music Theater, formerly Youth Company Chicago, has signed a long-term lease for the site and has been renovating the building since January. The performance center, which will feature a concessions counter and dressing rooms, will have 77 seats, about 200 fewer than when the Jefferson Theater, a silent movie house, operated in the building.

A second-floor projection room remains from when the building was constructed. It is not known when the movie theater closed, but it may not have operated past the 1920s because it is believed that movies with sound never played there, Northwest Chicago Historical Society researcher Frank Suerth said. Suerth said that at one time there were four movie theaters operating at the Milwaukee-Lawrence intersection.

Imperial Fruit Market occupied the building in the 1980s, and about 25 years ago a fire damaged portions of the building, with features the name "Jefferson" on its facade.

The building’s storefront has been vacant for about 10 years, while the rear portion of the building has had several uses in recent years, including a woodworking shop and a rehearsal studio for a band. In 2010 there were reports that an unlicensed business was operating in the building, and two building code citations were issued.

"The building has been a bit of a mystery," Windy City founder Jerry Foust said. "We’re glad we can open it up. There is no reason why people have to go Downtown to see good theater."

Jefferson Park already features a storefront playhouse in the Gift Theater, 4802 N. Milwaukee Ave., which opened about 10 years ago, and cultural shows also are held at the Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave., and the Paschke Art Center, 5415 W. Higgins Ave.

Windy City’s performing arts school opened in 2012 at 5340 W. Lawrence Ave. It previously operated at temporary locations in Lincoln Park, but Foust said that it was more cost effective to lease a permanent space. He said that the program has grown hosting from seven children at a summer camp to having 550 participants.

Foust said that he helped creating a successful acting company in California and that he wanted to start a similar theatrical group in Chicago.

Windy City’s programs initially were only for children, and the company manages musical productions at more than a dozen area schools. However, it recently expanded its programming to include adult workshops.

The first performance at the Jefferson Playhouse is scheduled to be the musical "Cinderella" on Saturday, April 18. While the venue will be available for rent for outside productions, it is expected that eventually it will only feature shows produced by Windy City, Foust said.