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Photograph: Andrew Nawrocki

Chase logo on Chicago Theatre | What’s up with that?

Did the bank’s addition to the theater sign violate landmark law?

By John Greenfield

Have you seen the Chicago Theatre lately? The Chase Bank logo was added to its sign. But doesn’t that go against the theater’s landmark status?—Robert, Lakeview

Chase has joined other corporate giants whose names appear as “presenting sponsors” in lights outside downtown theater-district venues, including the Ford Center for the Performing Arts and the Cadillac Palace. Balaban and Katz, the company that constructed the Congress, Portage, Riviera and Uptown theaters, built the State Street icon as an opulent movie palace in 1921, but by the ’70s it had gone to seed. In 1983, the City Council landmarked the building to save it from demolition, which led to a renovation by the Chicago Theatre Preservation Group in ’86. When the city sold the venue in 2004, a redevelopment agreement mandated that any changes to the vertical section of the sign be limited to the very top, where the Balaban and Katz logo was located, says city Housing and Economic Development spokesman Peter Strazzabosco. This made it easy for the current owner, Madison Square Garden Company, to secure a permit to add the logo this summer. “The fact that Chase is sponsoring a historic landmark is a good thing,” says Jonathan Fine, director of the advocacy group Preservation Chicago. “It’s important that buildings like the Chicago Theatre are able to generate revenue or else they become subject to the wrecking ball.”


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