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New ABC 7 State Street Studio Nears Completion
Setting up shop in historic theater building

Expanded ArchitectureChicago Plus posting from February 8, 2006


It's long past the Fall 2005 opening that was anticipated at its groundbreaking last April, but ABC 7 Chicago's new sidewalk studio on State Street finally seems to be nearing completion.

Within the past week, a 40 foot-high curving video panel has been illuminated with everything from the ABC logo to views of the lakefront and the city's landmark buildings. The studio, designed by Legat Architects of Waukegan City Hall fame, is centered in the former lobby of what was the State-Lake Theater, in the building of the same name designed by Rapp & Rapp, the movie palace architects who also had their offices in the building, as did the Balaban & Katz theater chain.

The State-Lake, a former 2600-seat vaudeville house was eclipsed just two years after its 1919 opening by the ornate French Empire-styled Chicago Theater directly across the street. While the Chicago continues to function as a theater, although chronically underbooked, the State-Lake was gutted after its closing as a movie venue in the 1980's to create additional space for the local ABC network affiliate WLS.

The office building in which the new studio resides, along with the cream-colored, gracefully ornamented terra cotta in which it is clad, were recently restored to their original splendor. The blazing digital signboard, along with the iconic Chicago theater, which remains lit even when the theater itself is dark, puts back at least a small portion of the brilliance that marked the State-Randolph district when it was the Times Square of Chicago and the center of the city's nightlife.

ABC 7 is the runner-up in the race for Chicago network affiliates to open street level studios. NBC 5 was the first to open its sidewalk studio, in 2003, at the base of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill's 1965 35 story Equitable Building, facing the Wrigley Building across a wide plaza at the foot of North Michigan Avenue. CBS 2 Chicago, not to be outdone, has begun construction of its own new home, designed by Goettsch Partners , that will include a sidewalk studio facing Richard M. Daley Plaza and its famous Picasso statue across the street. Fox Chicago has so far avoided entering the fray, adding to speculation that Rupert Murdoch, in a move to help recoup the $580,000,000 he recently put out to acquire, has quietly replaced his human anchors with digitally generated equivalents.

POSTSCRIPT - February 16, 2006. - Tribune art critic Alan Artner has weighed in with an amazingly clueless ripping of the new ABC State Street studfio LED, having apparently swallowed hook, line and sinker, without any evidence of independent thought, the station's PR declaring the 40 foot high video board a "sculpture" rather than signage. Artner bitches and moans how - surprise, surprise, surprise - it's not really a work of art, but a source of light pollution. Earth to critic: this is an entertainment district, not his empty idea of elysium. Artner is more than old enough to remember State and Randolph in their primes, when they were ablaze with gloriously over-the-top signage, such as the late, lamented marquee of the United Artists. The ABC concoction is a modern day counterpoint to the iconic Chicago theater sign and marquee, which is in no need of Artner's wagging finger to more than hold its own against the newcomer across the street.


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© Copyright 2006 Lynn Becker All rights reserved.






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