Wrecking ball may mean the end for Adelphi Theater

North Side residents who secured 10,000 signatures on petitions to save the Adelphi Theater thought they had a good chance to succeed. So they were stunned over the weekend to find that a wrecking ball had knocked out the back wall of the vintage building in Rogers Park.

Outside the theater on Saturday, activists gathered to assess the damage and plot their next move, which could include seeking a restraining order against further demolition. The Adelphi , 7070 N. Clark, was built in 1917. It was designed by architect John E. O. Pridmore, who also designed the Vic Theatre in Wrigleyville, the Sheridan (Palacio) Theatre, the Ravenswood Women's Club and several DePaul University buildings. It was also the studio of Ed Paschke, a well-known Chicago artist.

Developers plan to knock down the building and replace it with a five-story condominium and retail project. A representative of the property owner, 7070 N Clark, LLC, did not return calls seeking comment on the demolition.

Bill Morton, a longtime resident of Rogers Park, quit his job recently to work full-time preserving the Adelphi. He rented the theatre and with the help of volunteers, began restoring the interior, finding vintage fixtures buried under newer walls.

'Even if I didn't succeed I just had to do it,' he said. '[It was] the right thing to do.'

Morton said he had talks with someone involved in the condo project, who said he would entertain an offer from community members to buy the theater for between $3.5 and $4 million. Morton immediately began raising the money to buy the theater.

As the condo project worked their way through the city's zoning bureaucracy, Morton formed Citizens to Save the Adelphi Theatre, which quickly amassed 1,000 members.

He put up a website, www.adelphitheatre.org, and formulated a business plan with his partner Dusyant Sharma to renovate the theatre and host movies, music and community event there.

But last fall, Alderman Joe Moore (49th Ward), in whose district the theater lies, recommended approval of the zoning changes that developer Chad Zuric required to start construction. At the time, Moore acknowledged the strong feelings many in his ward had about the theater.

'I know a number of people have expressed a desire to preserve the Adelphi Theater. In an ideal world, I too would like to see it saved,' Moore said. 'However, the building has remained vacant for over five years and has been publicly offered for sale for three and a half years. If any party was seriously interested in preserving the building as a theater, they would have come forward long ago.'

The neighborhood's economic growth, Moore said, required development of the theater.

With Moore's approval, the city signed off on zoning changes and building permits. Last Wednesday scaffolding was erected around the theatre. Friday afternoon a wrecking ball knocked out the rear wall of the building exposing the proscenium and much of the interior.

Dust from the demolition led to complaints from those who live nearby.

'There have been numerous complaints and concerns registered from residents living in the vicinity of the building. The complaints range from nausea, an inability to sleep and excessive dust from the worksite," resident Gary Fuschi wrote in a letter to Moore's office.

Moore's office said it would send a representative to check on the demolition

Despite the partial demolition, Morton is continuing his quest to save the theater. He and Dusyant plan to hire an attorney and appeal the zoning decision, and have contacted Ed Paschke's son for assistance in obtaining landmark status, which could stall or curtail development on the site.

Paschke, a Rogers Park resident, taught at Northwestern University. His paintings have been shown at the Art Institute, New York's Museum of Modern Art, and other museums.