by: chicago designslinger
[Thalia Hall (1892) Faber & Pagels, architects /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
Thalia is the Greek muse of comedy and poetry, and as such her name has been inscribed above the door of many a theater. Her first appearance in Chicago wasn’t on this building, but it is her last, and she has stood proudly on the corner of 18th Street and Allport in the city’s Pilsen neighborhood since 1892.
[Thalia Hall, 1807 S. Allport, Chicago /Images & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
Pilsen came together as a community in the 1870s immediately following the big fire of 1871. The first settlers were immigrants from Bohemia, today’s Czech Republic, and the area came to be called Pilsen after Boehmia’s second largest city, Plzen. The story goes that Faber & Pagels designed the theater building, which also contained apartments and retail space on the ground floor, after an old opera house in Prague. But it could have also been inspired by Adler & Sullivan’s 1888 Auditorium Building, a multi-use theater project (although on a much grander scale) but with heavy rusticated stone work, large arched openings and carved limestone decoration. Faber & Pagels also did a group of single family homes in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood around the same time that used similar rusticated stonework as a design feature. The hall itself was home to Bohemian actor Fran Tisek Ludvik’s theater company for 15 years and provided the ideal gathering space for community events including the Jednota Ceskych Dam, a women’s organization who in 1895 listened to Hull House’s Jane Addams(ova) [ova added paternity to her name] give a talk about child reform.
[Thalia Hall, City of Chicago Landmark /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
After the Second World War, and the G.I. bill providing easy access to mortgages in outlying suburbs, Pilsen’s ethnic make-up began to change. The original Bohemians, who were later joined by Poles, all began to depart for the greener lawns of suburbia and Pilsen became home to a large Mexican-American community, many of whom were displaced by the destruction of their neighborhood to make way for the University of Illinois’ Chicago Campus. Pilsen became a gateway for Mexican immigration into the Midwest region, and eventually grew to include citizens from other Central American countries. Today the area is undergoing another change as more and more young, and often non-Hispanic residents move into the area, which has caused tensions with the existing community fearing a Gringo-gentrification invasion. But the current owner of Thalia Hall is looking to cater to the desires of this next generation of newcomers, converting many of the small, original apartments into larger loft-style units and opening an upscale Italian eatery in the ground floor space. As for the old theater, it has been vacant for decades but plans are in the works for refurbishing the currently crumbling hall.