Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Crocker should have been a rock theater

Crocker Elgin, IL
Originally uploaded by Seth Gaines.

Remains of the Crocker Theatre
You may have read last Friday that the Wheaton Grand will no longer host rock concerts. The historic theater was the leading all-ages rock venue in the Chicago suburbs.

No matter how far from “rock club” status the original Wheaton Grand was, its name, as of late, has become synonymous with indie music. Walk down Hale Street after 5 p.m. during the week or on a Saturday, and it’s easy to see.

Local rockers likely are loading amps and mic stands through the backdoor as a swarming crowd of teens lines the front vestibule and lobby. Band managers shuffle around up front, feeling the vibe of the crowd and schmoozing with bookers and onlookers. A few stragglers sneak a quick smoke outside before show time.

It’s a scene local bands have come to cherish: hundreds of loyal, and potentially loyal, fans packing a space to hear music.

And it’s a scene that’s in high demand and low supply in Chicago’s suburbs.

“We always dreamed, ‘Oh man, I can’t wait until we can play the Wheaton Grand,’” recalled Nate Christiansen, guitarist for Elgin-based pop band Scheflo, one of 11 bands who’ll bid farewell to the Wheaton Grand at its last show Saturday.

“It’s just got that feeling to it,” he said. “It isn’t very pretty, but it has that aura that an underground Chicago venue should have.”

That aura is less than three years in the making. In 2003, as attendance dipped for its film programming, a volunteer suggested using the theater’s large main stage for music shows.... (source: Daily Herald 3/31/06)

The Herald story goes on to describe how playing at the Wheaton Grand led to an opportunity for Elgin band Scheflo to play at Chicago's prestigious Metro.

The Wheaton Grand closed because the people who run it want to restore it to its original purpose as a venue for big traveling acts. In a way it's unfortunate, because the theater is so successful as an indie rock venue.

But this could be a case of their loss our gain. Now that the Wheaton Grand has closed....there's an opening....for someone to create its Elgin of course :)

I just think it's sad that to hear Elgin bands, some of which are really good, you need to go to Dundee or elsewhere. The Clearwater Theater itself is owned and run by Elginites--the Isibue brothers. While Elgin city leaders were busy figuring out how to destroy the Crocker Theater downtown, the Isibue brothers went to Dundee, where city leaders there recognized the role they might play in downtown revitalization and welcomed them.

Elgin had a great chance with the Crocker to become an indie music center, something that would unquestionably have enhanced our standing as a leading creative center. But city leaders decided to demolish the landmark.

This wasn't a case where the Crocker Theater had to go in order to build the condo. You could build the condo without tearing down the Crocker, but they weren't willing to do this. They saw Par Development's River Park Place proposal as their chance to tear down the Crocker, something they wanted to do, because it was a "reminder of blight." As one of the anti-Crocker spokesmen, Mike Bailey, later explained:
It was an old, unsightly building and had no use. It just reminded me of how old Elgin was and how long we waited for growth and revitalization. Good riddance. (source: Elgin Courier via The Elginite)
How Mr. Bailey could look at an elegant neo-classical theater, certainly the most beautiful theater in the Fox Valley and see a reminder of blight is hard for me to understand. The Clearwater Theater is ugly by any measure. And the Arcada in St. Charles is just bizarre. But the Crocker was, like many Elgin buildings, designed with taste and built with care. It was a tremendous loss for the community.


Blogger frankwolftown said...

Damn! They could have played some great shows there too! They have the Clearwater up in West Dundee. We should have had a place too. Then people would actually have a place in Elgin to see live shows.

6:19 PM  

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