Display will feature history of Jeff Park at ‘Taste of Polonia’


A display featuring the history of the Copernicus Center and Jefferson Township will be featured at the 36th annual "Taste of Polonia" festival, which will be held over the Labor Day weekend.

The festival is held on the grounds of the center, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave., which is in the former Gateway movie theater that is used predominantly for cultural events and concerts. The 1,900-seat theater opened in 1930 as one of the city’s first movie palaces built for "talkies," and in 1979 it became part of a cultural and civic center after it was purchased by the Copernicus Foundation.

Northwest Chicago Historical Society researcher Frank Suerth said that the art deco design of the theater’s ornate lobby and foyer featured ceiling murals by artist Louis Grell. The murals included images of Greek and Roman mythology.

Grell is believed to have hand-painted the murals in the theater, according to the Louis Grell Foundation. Grell, who lived from 1887 to 1960, produced art work for banks, hotels and theaters throughout the country, and in later years he was commissioned by several churches.

Grell also painted the murals in the Chicago Theater in the Loop, and he taught at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and at the Art Institute of Chicago. Suerth said that one of his students was Walt Disney.

Former theater manager Dennis Wolkowicz said that some of the Gateway Theater murals were removed when a portion of the lobby was reconstructed around 1980 to allow the creation of an area of the center on the first, second and third floor that houses offices and a meeting hall. At the same time, the foundation changed the facade of the theater to resemble the Royal Castle and an adjoining clock tower in Warsaw, Poland.

Wolkowicz said that the other murals in the lobby were painted over. He said that in the late 1990s a piece of canvas which had one of Grell’s murals and which had been painted over became loose due to condensation and was removed from the ceiling.

Suerth said that the display also will feature 2-by-3-foot boards depicting the history of Jefferson Township, which the state formed in 1850 and which had 50 buildings by 1855. The Town of Jefferson was incorporated in 1872.

Early settlers named the first post office in the area after President James Monroe, but after they learned that another town in Illinois was named Monroe, they renamed the community after President Thomas Jefferson, according to the historical society.

The history display will be in the center’s annex, a former industrial building that that the center uses for banquets, meetings and live performances. Wunar Automatic Screw Products once was located in the building.

The hours of the festival, which draws up to 30,000 visitors each Labor Day weekend, are 5 to 10 p.m. Friday, noon to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and noon to 9:30 p.m. Monday.

The festival will feature 40 bands on four stages, including classic rock, pop, polka and classical music. The event also will feature Polish food vendors, a kids’ zone, merchant booths, a casino, a craft beer tent and carnival rides and games.

More information is available at www.topchicago.org.


(Photos courtesy of the Copernicus Foundation)