Evening Exploration: Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center

On March 22nd, among a small crowd of Instagrammers and preservationists, local artists demonstrated their skills ranging from blacksmithing to bending glass for neon signs and the Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center (CAFAC). The Center began providing classes at Metropolitan Community and Technical College (MCTC) in 2007 and in 2009 worked with Artspace to acquire the 1915 Nokomis Theater, located at 38th and Chicago Avenue.  The Nokomis Theater first opened as a silent moving picture house on the busy Chicago Avenue streetcar line. As movie production evolved, so did the theater. In 1928 it was remodeled under the new owners, Finkelstein & Rubin to increase the seating capacity to 553. As the movie business evolved and new mega movie centers opened, many small neighborhood theaters closed. The Nokomis Theater was no exception and closed in 1952, coincidentally coinciding with the closure of the Chicago Avenue streetcar line.

Beginning in 2009, the owners worked tirelessly to rehabilitate and adaptively reuse the old theater into a social hub for creativity, culture and community.  Renovations done by CAFAC included, saving intact subway tile and decorative multi-colored hexagon tile in the front lobby entrance, the plaster arch movie screen proscenium and side sound grills, projection both, and brick facade. CAFAC opened the previously enclosed front entrance on Chicago Avenue. The most striking restoration is the original encaustic tile work on the second story of the front facade. CAFAC occupied the theater in 2010, providing classes open to the public.

The Instameet was both informative and engaging, allowing attendees to see not only a historic building back in use, but the lost art of specialized crafts in action. New fire arts technology was also on display including plasma cutting and neon light creation. For a list of classes, to rent studio space, or see their upcoming events, visit www.cafac.org. While not showing the latest movie anymore, the Nokomis Theater is showcasing a whole new kind of production.

Author: Stephanie Rouse

Before and After Photos Courtesy of Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center