Saturday, September 6, 2008

Flashback: Morse Theatre Clears Initial Hurdles

The Morse Theatre will have its first show on October 9, 2008. Winard Harper will perform at the newly finished venue. Let's flash back 22 months, when partners Andy and Devin McGhee went before the community and presented their grand plans. The Bench immediately gave it a good notice (many months before any of the big local media), and has faithfully supported it from day one. Congratulations to The Morse Theatre, proceeding in spite of hateful attacks by some local bloggers (see "Flashback: Morse Theatre Attacked Continuously by Moore Operative"), initial obstruction or lack of action by some local politicians, and a recent arson attack.

FLASHBACK: November 2, 2006
Century Public House & Morse Theatre gets good reception from neighbors

Floor plans shown below
Good reception from neighbors
A new restaurant/music venue will occupy the space that formerly housed Cobblers on Morse Avenue (1328 West Morse Avenue, the old Cobblers Mall next to JB Alberto's Pizza). The meeting last night (Nov. 1) was well attended by approximately 80 people. The Century Public House & Morse Theatre was discussed in detail. The meeting was moderated by 49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore. This sounds like a wonderful project, and the enthusiasm was palpable. No negative comments were heard, but two in the audience asked about parking and deliveries.

The floor plans
Everyone was interested in the floor plans for the proposed Century Public House & Morse Theatre, discussed in a public meeting on Wednesday, November 1. The developers said they would have them up on their web site in February, 2007 - but I've got 'em right here for you. (Click to see larger images; these are big images and may take a few moments to load. This is necessary to see the detail in the images.)

Work begins on Century Public House in Rogers Park
History and future of a theater in Rogers Park
Century Public House & Morse Theatre gets good reception from neighbors
Congregation Beth Israel Anshe Yanova remembered
Demolition on Cobbler's Mall to start this week

FLASHBACK: July 30, 2007
Morse Theatre Jumps Last Hurdle

Andy McGhee was covered in dust, and he was smiling. The dust mask was hanging below his chin, his khaki colored t-shirt a lighter shade of pale because of the dust covering it and his arms. That was today at 12:30 p.m., July 30, 2007.

Remember this day, this week. It may not seem so now, but years from now people will speak of what is happening at 1330 Morse Avenue as one of the turning points in the revitalization of East Rogers Park.

The "last hurdle," as he put it, was passed and the construction will start this week. Andy, who with his partner and son Devin will build The Morse Theatre and Century Public House restaurant, was doing some last minute inspection of the cavernous space in what was formerly Cobbler's Mall at 1330 Morse Avenue.

There is much anticipation for this big project in Chicago's Rogers Park neighborhood. Morse Avenue has been depressed for a couple of decades now, with little or no help at times from the alderman's office - or any other source.

Residents of Rogers Park who remember still wax nostalgic about the days when Morse Avenue was lined with restaurants, delis, clothing stores. Over the past two decades, businesses left en masse and gangs took over the street. Some progress has been made in pushing back the gangs, but it was not until a couple of years ago, when the City of Chicago put a blue light camera at the corner of Morse and Glenwood (near the CTA's Morse Red Line station), that criminal activity lessened on the street. And it is still far from gone.

Then Andy and Devin McGhee, longtime residents of Rogers Park, decided to do an unlikely project in an unlikely neighborhood on an unlikely street. A major music venue with a restaurant, a completely private-sector endeavor.

Critics scoffed. The short-sighted always do. But the project has gotten the blessings of City Hall, the 49th Ward alderman stayed out of the way (but will undoubtedly take credit for bringing it to Rogers Park), and in about one year a number of local residents will be employed by the McGhees.

Local businesses on Morse Avenue will benefit, too, as people from outside of Rogers Park come in to enjoy a show at The Morse Theatre. Many of them will opt to grab a gyro across the street at Morse Gyros, or a slice of pizza at JB Alberto's next door, before or after a show.
People from outside of Rogers Park will come into a neighborhood that has a bad reputation citywide, and perhaps some of them will say, "Hey, this isn't so bad," and see the beautiful lakefront and maybe decide to check out another food and music venue in the neighborhood - and bring themselves and their spending cash back another time. They will, some of them, hear about Duke's on Glenwood, and down a few beers after a show there.

In other words, The Morse Theatre and the Century Public House will do a lot for Rogers Park. It will probably do more within its first year of being open for the revitalization of this bruised but beautiful neighborhood than the current alderman, DevCorp North, any SSA or public works project has been able to do in the past 16 years.

RELATED: McGhee Factor
Congregation Beth Israel Anshe Yanova remembered
Work begins on Century Public House in Rogers Park
History and future of a theater in Rogers Park
Century Public House & Morse Theatre gets good reception from neighbors