Ald. John Arena, Preservation Chicago join forces to save Red Star sign
by BRIAN NADIG
An approximately 80-year-old neon sign for the former Red Star Inn restaurant at 4179 W. Irving Park Road recently was saved from the wrecking ball as the site was being cleared for a new retail-residential development.
The German-American restaurant opened in the 1890s in a narrow Victorian-style building that was demolished about 45 years ago as part of an urban renewal initiative that brought large residential structures to that community. As a result, the Red Star Inn relocated in 1970 to Old Irving Park, where it remained opened until the mid-1980s.
The five-foot-tall, star-shaped sign features red bulbs, and the restaurant’s operators had the sign transferred to the new location on Irving Park, where it was mounted on a pole at the entrance of the restaurant’s parking lot. The Red Star Inn also had a larger sign that was visible to motorists on the adjacent Kennedy expressway.
Preservation Chicago and Alderman John Arena (45th) worked to secure the sign and have it placed in storage. The alderman is looking for an appropriate place in the ward where the sign can be displayed, serving a reminder of the once-famous restaurant, said Arena’s art liaison Cyd Smillie.
A demolition crew lowered the pole to the ground and used steel cutters to remove the sign from the pole, Smillie said. The preservation of neon signs throughout the city is on Preservation Chicago’s 2015 list of endangered structures.
Preservation Chicago’s executive director Ward Miller said that the interior of the Red Star Inn on Clark had beautiful woodwork. “It was like entering the Black Forest,” Miller said.
The restaurant’s menu included grilled fresh pig’s feet, smoked beef tongue, German pot roast and smoked pork loin. When on Clark, it was located across from a German social and supper club, which is still operating there, Miller said.
After the Red Star closed on Irving Park, an alarm monitoring company eventually opened in the building. Plans call for the construction of three buildings ranging from two to four stories, including one building with 27 residential units and a two-story retail structure.
(Pictures are Alderman John Arena (45th), ward art liaison Cyd Smillie & Preservation Chicago’s Ward Miller)