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Fate of Chicago’s Congress Theater to be decided Tuesday morning

By   /   April 22, 2013  /   Comments Off


After the threat of an emergency shutdown last week, one of the city’s most historic venues scrambles to reconcile “hazardous and dangerous conditions”

On Friday, Chicago attorneys asked a judge for the immediate shutdown of one of the most important concert venues in the area, citing dangerous conditions that may cancel several tour dates scheduled for the coming weeks. Public nuisance cases have been filed already against the nearly century-old building, and this emergency injunction is just going to add fuel to the fire.

The court ruled Friday morning that the Congress may stay open through the weekend until the next scheduled court date which is tomorrow, Tue. Apr. 23. The lawyer from the Logan Square theater declined to comment, however city attorney Judy Frydland said inspectors visited the theater Wednesday and saw that several of the issues that had raised city questions had been addressed: carbon monoxide detectors and fire extinguishers had appeared and serious electrical issues had been fixed.

The theater was not allowed to sell any additional tickets to the events held this past weekend. Also the capacity for the venue’s first floor had been reduced by about 1,500; the balcony is already closed for refurbishing.

Owner Eddie Carranza has invested in repairing the theater, but fixing the marquee and putting a new chandelier in the lobby was not going to satisfy angry city officials.

The hearing on Tuesday morning may end in a slew of options, ranging in everything from the loss of the venue’s liquor license to “granting police the power to force (him) from the premises if he doesn’t willingly vacate immediately.”

Frydland added, “it’s nothing personal or political – this is the city being concerned about safety.“

Those close to the Chicago dance music scene may have seen this coming as ticket holders have all been subject to the often jarring experience had as concert-goers at the Congress. Plus, just months ago the city winced at the news that Carranza would be taking over Portage Theater, explaining to DNAinfo that he “knows what this community wants.” Interesting statement from the guy who, in the same article claimed, ”the audience at the Portage would not be as “hipster” as the Congress.”

Full list of conditions the city cites as “dangerous and hazardous“ :


a. The electrical system is in a dangerous condition. There is improper clearance for the main distribution of live front switchboard in the basement area.


b. Bare electrical cable wires throughout the basement areas lack ground continuity and therefore pose a dangerous hazard to occupants and emergency responders.

c. There are defective lights throughout the theater area, second floor bathroom, and second floor projector rooms, which are a dangerous and hazard. d. There is a defective live front service and main distribution board, as well as electrical panels, fire pump controllers, motors with exposed live feeds throughout the basement, first and second floors, and stage areas, which need to be replaced with a dead front.

e. The ventilation system above the stage block specifically designed to vent flames and smoke in case of a fire is totally disabled. This condition poses an extremely dangerous hazard as the flames and smoke will back draft into the occupied auditorium putting all patrons at risk.

f. Theater has not posted revised capacity placards. Recent change in exit pathways has altered egress including removal of fire escapes and construction of exterior stair systems. The floor plan used to obtain first level auditorium capacity placard is inaccurate. The existing toilet rooms are insufficient for current capacity.

g. Unknown insulation material is used on the boiler and piping throughout the basement areas and there is missing and damaged insulation as well as insulation lying on the floor at some locations. Insulation material requires evaluation.

h. Inspectors observed that the fire curtain has not been tested in numerous years, despite the annual testing requirement. The fusible links appear to be painted or covered with dirt, which could effect proper operation. There is wiring and cables, which will block the fire curtain from dropping properly causing a breach in the four hour stage block.

i. Approved fire extinguishers are missing from each side of the stage, each gallery above the stage level, the gridiron, and accessible places below the stage.

j. Fire resistive separation between auditorium and stage block is in dangerous condition. The basement north fire door to the orchestra pit is badly corroded, there is an improperly infilled opening at the basement south fire door to the orchestra pit, the first floor fire doors at each side of stage do not close properly, there is a hole in the wall being used to run a bundle of cables to the auditorium area at the basement level north brick enclosure to orchestra pit, a gridiron level hole in the brick wall between the auditorium and the stage block is being used to provide access for piping, upper level door lacks self closing device on fire door, fire doors are improperly held open.

k. There are no carbon monoxide detectors.

l. The exit capacity at the northeast exit courtyard has been obstructed where safe exiting from the building has been significantly compromised. The presence of dumpsters, crowd control barricades, large steel gates, large steel tubs and designated disabled parking hamper travel and evacuation. The present conditions pose a dangerous hazard to employees and patron many emergency egress.

m. Crowd control barricades, being used near the front of the stage, are arranged in a manner that eliminates access to one half of the exit opens on each side of the stage.

n. There are beverage dispensing stations and bars installed in the south main level exit corridor, balcony exit corridor, and in auditorium at the north and south exit aisles which obstruct access to exit doors.

o. Management or owner contact information on building is missing from the premises.

p. There is neither smoke nor fire detection in the loft space above the main ceiling. Breaches in the fire rated ceiling are used for rigging concert equipment creating a dangerous condition.

q. Com Ed room in basement unlocked, main area of Com Ed feed under vaulted sidewalk grid work rotten out and firebrick wall supporting grid has collapsed in part.

r. The catwalk for access above the ceiling in the auditorium, to rig shows and change lighting, is old and dilapidated posing risk of collapse. This condition poses a hazard to any unexpecting employee.

s. New permanent generator needs test and exhaust needs to be extended from beneath stairs and away from fresh air intake. Carbon monoxide detector needs to be installed in generator area.

t. Obstructions in the main lobby, 1st floor, and balcony, specifically bars and coat checks reduce the path of egress. Safe egress is significantly obstructed is any emergency exiting.

u. Both the wooden platforms in the rear of the auditorium and the sound and lighting platform were constructed without plans and permits and are not non-combustible or approved fire rated material.

v. The sprinkler heads in the VIP room and within the stage block are in dangerous condition. Inspectors observed that sprinkler heads have been painted and the inspectors were unable to test sprinklers of both areas to assure that the system is operational.

w. There is no railing system to prevent falling in either the balcony or the VIP room.

x. There is water in the basement near an open live front electrical panel. The panel is in use and feeds through wiring which stretches around the basement area to numerous unprotected holes in order to feed the stage block and auditorium areas. The conditions pose an electrical fire hazard and possible electrocution to occupants.

y. Inspectors observed a hole on the roof of the mechanical room tower. There is missing firebrick, which suggests that there could be other structural issues with the roof.

z. Ventilation system is inoperable; vents have been blocked and sealed. There is no fresh air supply to patrons, nor is there any exhaust of polluted air from the theater.


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About the author

Caroline Koch

I am a first year student at COD, avid concert-goer, music blogger and lover of Transformers. I worked on many a magazine while attending Arizona State University and now I run my dance music & culture blog with my brother: Operationhandhug.com (Go check it out!) arts@cod.edu 630-942-2660

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