Revisiting Chicago’s Hollywood


This blog post is dedicated to artist Neil Trais, who died in 2021. Neil, who for several decades designed Chicago Filmmakers’ myriad posters and announcements, loved Godzilla films and was a devoted fan of all things reptilian.


If you look hard enough in Chicago, you’ll spot one of the grand old firehouses whose doors are no longer bright red, where “hook and ladders” used to be parked inside, waiting for the next fire. These abandoned firehouses have been revived by a variety of visionaries intent on saving a neighborhood treasure while contributing to the community. For example, Chicago Filmmakers transformed a firehouse on the city’s north side into the home of a vibrant nonprofit arts organization with a focus on independent filmmaking. And their building is green: not just the repainted firehouse door, but the site in general. Inside the century-old structure, filmgoers and budding filmmakers are surrounded by sustainability–from the repurposed sandstone counter in the box office, made out of a divider from the firemen’s old bathroom stalls; to recycled chairs, filing cabinets, and tables, courtesy of other nonprofit groups. In the former firetruck garage, Filmmakers shows films “with a conscience” like Last Man Fishing, a documentary about nondestructive fishing methods. Last summer, Filmmakers also staged a free concert on the green in the neighboring vest-pocket city park.

Sustainability is a work in progress. Since moving into the LEED-certified structure in 2017, Filmmakers has had to tweak some green building elements. Although their motion-sensor lights, installed to maximize energy efficiency, work well in the bathrooms, the sensors in the upstairs meeting rooms had to be deactivated because the lights kept turning off in the middle of a meeting or a class. Future plans for the site include more “green programming,” more outdoor events, upping the ante on the building’s recycling efforts, and planting more trees on the grounds.

For more info on Filmmakers’ firehouse renovation, see https://www.historecycle.com/chicago-filmmakers, and, for other successfully repurposed “green” firehouses in Chicago, see https://www.historecycle.com/optimo-firehouse and https://www.historecycle.com/single-post/igniting-green-ideas-in-an-old-firehouse.

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