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Logan Square theatre offers retro look, beer

Even as Orlando Torres casually leans against the arm of the tall, deep red squishy couches that line the retro, art deco design of the main lobby in the Logan Theatre, his jiggling foot and random hand clasps indicate that his mind is already onto the next three things he needs to do that evening.

Torres has to set up the old film projector with the night’s feature film, clean theater No. 2 before the next movie, and check that the staff is well-stocked for the evening ahead.

Torres, the floor manager for Logan Theatre, has worked there 14 years and over the course of that time, he has seen a lot of changes to the theater and the surrounding neighborhood. He has witnessed the rehabilitation of his workspace and the revitalization of the Logan Square neighborhood.

Torres is not the only manager working to keep up with a thriving business.

“People are looking at this neighborhood and they’re saying, ‘this is the next Wicker Park, this is the next Lincoln Park,’ and we are happy to be at the forefront of that change,” says Allan Zinkann, general manager of the Logan Theatre.

The rehabbed Logan Theatre is part of the changing face of the Logan Square neighborhood: Little Poland became a predominantly Latino area. Within the last few years, the neighborhood has seen a recent influx of young people known colloquially as ‘hipsters’ from the near Northwest Side.

The diversity of the neighborhood has changed the face of Milwaukee Avenue. Despite the struggling economy, the area is becoming a thriving business district, says Perry Gunn, executive director of the North River Commission.

Walking along Milwaukee Avenue proves this: privately-owned coffee shops, brew pubs, small businesses selling books or music and restaurants from countries around the world now fill the turn-of-the-century buildings.

In 2010 Mark Fishman, a well-renowned businessman in the Logan Square neighborhood, purchased the nearly century-old theater to revitalize its image to align with the changing neighborhood.

After eight months of construction, the theater re-opened in March 2012.

Remy O’Brien, a former Logan Square resident who has been coming to the theater for almost five years, said that the new theater is an exemplary venue of the changing neighborhood. She was happy to see that it finally re-opened after the months-long wait.

Patrons of Logan Theatre can now experience the benefits of this state-of-the-art theater that still maintains some of the old architecture, including a fully-restored stained glass arch that is featured over the outdoor ticket booth, a bronze motif of a man and horses that hangs as a central piece over the bar, restored marble walls and red carpeting that is highlighted by gold detail on the walls.

The history of the Logan Theatre alludes to the gentrifying Logan Square neighborhood: for nearly 90 years the Vaselopolis family ran the theatre. Chris Vaselopolis, the previous owner, was born in the apartment above the building and his father died in projection room No. 2.

There is a legend that adds to the uniqueness of the theatre: the ghost of the father is said to still roam theatre No. 2, where he died in the projection room.

The theater is well-known for more than its ghost.

Many people come for the special events and theme nights in a classic 1920’s theater setting.

Theme nights and film festivals keep the theatre competitive and relevant to the diversifying neighborhood: from the Latino Film Festival and the Bike Film Festival to the movie trivia night and Mommy matinees on Saturday afternoons. The theater is able to offer a little something to everyone in the neighborhood, said Zinkann.

A combination of old and new has allowed the theater to survive in a struggling economy for theaters.

The Motion Pictures Association of America reported that box office sales were down 4 percent from 2010 to 2011, but sales have seen a rebound since 2005 when sales were at the lowest point.

Despite a tough economy for theaters, Zinkann and his employees remain positive about the future of the second-run theater.

“It’s new and revitalized,” says Aaron Ray, a shift manager who has worked at the theater since its reopening. “It’s more accepting to different people of different cultures- it has a safe feel.”

Margo Wallace, a fellow employee felt similarly.

“Logan Square has a lot of gems like this (the Logan Theatre),” she says, adding that the theatre has a unique feel to that emanates the feel of the neighborhood.

As the night progresses, business in the theater picks up and people file inside to buy tickets and concessions. The smell of real butter and freshly-made popcorn fills the air. Customers sip on locally-brewed beers, munch on snacks from the concessions stand, and laugh and chat with the friendly, accommodating staff.

Torres rushes through the lobby and flashes a brilliant smile: “Looks like you’re going to see a real rush here!”

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