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News / City Life

Cinespace is building a Hollywood-style studio backlot in North Lawndale

Photograph: Courtesy Universal Studios HollywoodStudio Tour at Universal Studios Hollywood
Photograph: Michael JulianoStudio Tour at Universal Studios.

Cinespace in North Lawndale has hosted filming for TV shows like Empire and Chicago Fire for the past few years, but the Southwest Side complex will start to look a bit more like Hollywood in the near future. Crain's reported this morning that City Council has approved an ordinance that will allow Cinespace to build an outdoor studio backlot on its property, similar to the Universal Studios backlot in Los Angeles.

When completed, the backlot will allow productions to capture the look and feel of streetscapes without having to shoot on location. Cinespace president Alex Pissios told us that he's planning to build facades that replicate the look of New York brownstones, Chicago's Chinatown, a London street and "Main Street USA." Referring to the latter set, Pissios says that "productions can come and make it look like Kentucky [in] 1935 or Louisville [in] 2013."

While the addition will almost certainly be used by some of the productions that currently film on Cinespace's indoor soundstages (Pissios says that he's hoping New York-set Empire will make use of the brownstone streetscape), the facility is being built with an eye on courting new film and television projects. Pissios is building the Chinatown streetscape in response to his conversations with film studios, which can't shoot in places like Chicago's Chinatown due to population density and the unavailability of parking for large vehicles.

According to Crain's, the city is facilitating the 60-acre backlot by closing a one-block section of Rockwell Street between 15th and 16th streets as well as a one-block section of 15th Street east of Rockwell Street. Cinespace will also lease a two-block section of 16th Street east of Washtenaw Avenue from the city and shell out $250,000 for new signage and the rerouting of the 16th Street bus.

Pissios says that the new backlot will be fenced off this summer and construction on the facades will begin next spring. When the outdoor facility is completed, Cinespace plans on offering tours of the space, similar to the famous Universal Studio Tour. Pissios stated that the nearby Lagunitas Brewery (which resides in a building owned by Cinespace) welcomed 400,000 people to its brewery tour in 2017—he's hoping to allow guests to grab a beer and then take a spin through recreations of New York and London streets.

Film and television projects shooting in the new facilities will still have to contend with Chicago's temperamental weather, but the backlot could make the city a destination for productions looking for a cost-effective way to shoot on the streets without disrupting a neighborhood. If everything goes according to plan, you might see a carefully disguised section of North Lawndale in Avengers 8.

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