Lincoln Park debutante turns on the Porchlight in 2009

Lincoln Park is getting a major new 299-seat theater in the historic Fullerton State Bank Building at 1425 W. Fullerton Ave. And beginning in the fall of 2009, Porchlight Music Theatre will have a home to call its own.

According to Walter Stearns, the artistic director of Porchlight, a group of donor-investors has purchased the building for about $3 million and plans to start construction this fall on a new proscenium space inside the classic terra-cotta bank building, replete with a fly tower and an orchestra pit. The new venue is to be run by Stearns as the head of a new non-profit, to be known as The Lincoln Park Theater.

It will, of course, host the offerings of Porchlight, a small-but-growing non-profit that specializes in musicals and has worked at theaters all over the North Side. Porchlight's current production of "Nine" is in the final weekend of its run at the Theatre Building Chicago.

Stern says he expects the new venue will also host other "complementary" small Chicago theater companies, with the exact troupes to be designated at some point in the near future. The new venue may also host acoustical musical events.

Stearns declined to name his investors, saying they preferred to remain anonymous but that they were interested in helping Porchlight "and giving something back to the community." Highly ornamental and in the Classical Revival style, the Fullerton State Bank Building was built in 1923. Coincidentally, a New York bank built by the same architect is the home of the Daryl Roth Theatre.

John Morris, a Chicago architect who specializes in theaters and who designed both the Steppenwolf and the Lookingglass Theatres, confirmed that the building had been purchased and his firm hired to turn the bank into a theater with a 200-seat main floor and a 100-seat balcony.

"It's bought," Morris said this week. "We are in the midst of the design process right now. We expect to break ground this fall."

The new venue, which is expected to cost $4 million to renovate, will have an enviable location in the heart of one of Chicago's most affluent neighborhoods and the home of many of its most prolific theatergoers and donors. A parking lot sits next to the theater and there is a possibility that a black-box gallery space may be turned into a studio space at some time in the future. But in the beginning, at least, the Lincoln Park Theatre is to host one mid-sized show at once.

According to Stearns, the plan is to create a jewel-box-like venue that recalls a small European opera house. The audience will be accommodated in just 10 rows of seating.