Apparently, the friendly helpful party animals of the past still enjoy good times!
The Broadway Theater, formerly the home of the National Pastime Theater, is an 85 seat theater that is located in what would have been the ballroom when this building was The Buena Park Hotel during the 1920s, 30s’ and 40s’.
This theater space has been well-developed by the National Pastime Theater who renovated this former store into a viable stage Theater, during the twenty years that they made this structure their home. The New National Pastime Theater Group has moved into another space in a historic 70 year old building in Chicago, and sold this Theater space to this new GLBT Pride Arts Center.
It has a nice lobby, with washrooms and water fountains, with a terrific heating and cooling system to provide plenty of heat and air conditioning which is so important in a place like Chicago; because of very cold winters and steamy summers.
The Broadway Theater; being one of the two theaters owned by the Gay Pride Center showcases plays and films that deal with gay and GLBT relationships, issues, with the ultimate goal of improving the quality of LGBT theater and film for this generation and those to come.
The goal of A Pride Arts Center: “We aspire to be a year round facility where people from the neighborhood and from around the globe can see excellent queer centric works which are essential viewing for all.”
The main tenant for The Broadway is the non-profit; Pride Film and Plays. In the Broadway Theater, 4 shows are produced in a year. In this theater Pride Film and Plays also sponsors “a series of community outreach events – film fests, LezFest, cabaret or comedy shows – that generally have one or two performances.”
I never stop marveling at the creativeness and ingenuity of the human spirit. The period of Prohibition, the banning of alcohol, inspired some innovative moves to foil the nosy authorities and allow people to party, enjoying the banned liquid refreshment.
This horseshoe-shaped building which hides this ballroom turned speak-easy turned theater, was built in 1929, known as the Buena Park Hotel, probably providing a market for underworld figures who ran a black-market booze business. It is thought that its patrons were from the working-class, looking for a place to dance and enjoy themselves, momentarily forgetting life’s woes, while sticking it to officious nanny laws which stomp on personal freedom; the freedom to indulge in the bubbly!
Imagine a building with regular, run of the mill business storefronts. One of these storefronts has a hidden, huge disguised back room created for party festivities featuring, “a marble-floored ballroom, terra cotta moldings, a four-foot marble clock placed over the bar area and even ornate drinking fountains mounted into the walls.” Needless to say, many a good time was experienced here, through dancing, drinking and by partying hardy!
Ten escape routes from the inevitable police raids were also provided, through hidden doors. Larry Bryan; (owner of The National Pastime Theater that was in this building for 20 years), explains in an article By Anne Keegan, Tribune Staff Writer, found on the theater’s website: “You could escape into three different storefronts, into the alley, down into the basement and then up the steps into an apartment building. And from the balcony, which is now our control booth, you could quietly ease into a hallway and head toward an elevator in the same building as if you’d never been there.”
As time marched on, the storefront became home to many regular businesses one would find in the city, while the ballroom was ignored by the living, growing dusty, forgotten, no longer needed. This was the case until theater enthusiast Larry Bryan visited its storefront, then the home to a sign shop.
After inquiring about any large spaces available for a theater in this area, the proprietor of the sign shop who was moving out, showed Bryan this hidden treasure!! It was love at first sight! The storefront area became the lobby, decorated in the “Bohemian style,” and the ballroom was converted into a theater which offered high energy theatrical entertainment for at first 60 patrons; later for Eighty-Five.
The kind of theater provided by this theater company complements the room’s aura of energy, being a perfect match for the type of theater that National Pastime brings to Chicago. Their website stated, “We push ourselves to the limit, and our audiences as well. We aspire to bring people into the work, not just into the theater: we want to create terror, awe. We want to sell dreams, not just tickets.”
After twenty years in this small theater, they decided to expand into a larger space and sold this building to a non-profit. A Gay Pride Center, who thought it was the perfect space for their films and plays concerning gay and GLBT life. Before Covid, they were busy with film festivals and plays and hope to open again soon.
HISTORY OF MANIFESTATIONS
Earthly places where people had a great time can be candidates for being after-life haunts, rather than go on to the next world.
Natatorium, TX (This music and dancing venue is still an environmental trigger that draws spirits who had loved to dance, gamble and enjoy the music here while alive).
Flanders Hotel, NJ (A spirit of a female still enjoys the social events in the ballroom here, and participates in the festiities; feeling free to crash the events).
Goodman/Legrand House and Museum, TX (Former owners still have a great time entertaining their friends and family, and even have invited the curator of the museum to join them!).
The Boadway (formerly The National Pastime Theater, IL (The people who really enjoyed drinking, dancing and the music still may come to encourage and have parties after the theater is closed).
Some haunted dwellings radiate various feelings. Franklin Castle in Cleveland radiates an evil aura, even felt from the sidewalk outside! Other places like the Mead Hotel in Bannack, Montana give one the feeling of uneasiness, especially on the second floor. However, the aura and feeling inside the Broadway Theater; formerly the National Pastime Theater is one which radiates energy, joy, enthusiasm and acceptance, the perfect encouragement for the arts!
While most of the activity mentioned below happened during The National Pastime Theater’s stay here, the same occurrences may still happen; caused by the merry crew of spirits who still stay.
Described as “Merry Spirits,” the ghosts that haunt the ballroom are good natured entities.
They enjoy the theater productions, and approve of the living’s efforts.
They also have their own parties when the living close up the room and the place is empty of life.
Spirits’ Aura of Energy
Theater groups who occasionally rent the theater for their productions, the performers of The Broadway and their audiences are pumped by an exciting energy which exists in this room.
Larry Bryan of The National Pastime Theater explained in the website article by Anne Keegan mentioned above; “You walk into the room and you feel that there is a magic here. It has the smell of notorious about it. There is a life to this room that embraces you. The actors feel it. The audience feels it.”
This activity happened when The Pastime Theater first began to set up the structure as a Theater; twenty years ago.
After moving heavy seating around one evening during a construction project, Larry and crew went out to dinner late one night, leaving just one section of seating on the floor which they planned to move back later. Each section took four men to move.
When they came back to the theater around 2 am, to finish moving the seating, they were surprised to see that the heavy seating had been moved back where it belonged, again clearing the ballroom floor. Larry was the only one with a key to the place.
Perhaps the entities wanted to help the living in moving the remaining seating, or perhaps they wanted room to dance at one of their after hours entity parties.
The spirits who haunt this room enjoy playing with electricity, especially the stage lights.
After working one night alone in the theater, Larry turned off all the lights and stepped out for a time.
When he returned, all the stage lights were again blazing.
After Show Spectral Parties
After a show or a late night work detail, and the room is empty and locked, the ghosts can be heard laughing, perhaps discussing the newest production, and singing jazz tunes.
“We hear them very often late at night after we have closed up at 2 or 3 in the morning. The doors of the theater will be closed. I will be in the lobby. You hear people laughing. We hear a woman that sings all the time. Beautiful jazz,” said Larry Bryan.
The owners, the staff, the performers and the patrons have felt the wonderful energy, the positive aura and perhaps hear them and perhaps even see see them as well.
I could find no hard evidence of the spirits heard that have been shared on line. However, Ursula Bielski, is a paranormal investigator who may have investigated this place because she wrote about it in her book, CHICAGO HAUNTS, Ghostlore of the Windy City.
Though a new theater with very different goals has moved inside, some of the spirits may be open enough to appreciate the GBLT content, and some may have been GLBT. GBLT people were sometimes afraid to show their true selves during the eras that they were alive.
These open-minded, fun-loving entities may welcome this new form of entertainment which takes place in their ballroom. They still may find the living entertaining, worthy of their encouragement and positive energy! Plus, after the living leave, they once again have the place to themselves, to relive their good times, sing a few tunes and perhaps laugh at the comedies presented, or discuss the serious film or show they just saw.
The Broadway Theater
4139 North Broadway Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60613.
The Broadway; A Pride Arts Center Theater … One can find The Broadway Theater in northern Chicago; Chicago’s Uptown/Buena Park neighborhood. The Broadway Theater sits on N. Broadway Street, which is located west of N. Clarendon Avenue & Hwy 41, east of Graceland Cemetery and N. Sheridan Road, and north of W. Irving Park Road.
- CHICAGO HAUNTS
Ghostlore of the Windy City
By Ursula Bielsk
Lake Claremont Press – 1998
Our Haunted Paranormal Stories are Written by Julie Carr