Famously, the old Logan Theatre at 2646 N. Milwaukee Ave. used to smell like pee. Urban legends abound of the stink detectable all over the Logan Square neighborhood.
"You went in the lobby door, and there it was. The smell of urine. We found out during the remodeling that there was no water going through the urinal. And the vent stack wasn't connected, so the bathroom air was venting straight into Theater 4."
The man talking is Mark Fishman, a real estate developer with a strong self-interest in making Logan Square as cool as possible. We're tucked away in a corner of the beautifully restored art deco lobby lounge, and there's not a trace of dubious odor.
The website for M. Fishman & Co. refers to itself as "Chicago's premier property management company." Fishman owns rental units in Logan Square, some above and beside the Logan Theatre. Fishman bought the theater in 2010. With some architect friends, one of whom had to twist Fishman's arm to get him comfortable with the idea of investing more than $2 million in the theater and surrounding storefronts and rental units, Fishman reopened what he calls "his own private art project" on St. Patrick's Day 2012.
It's a grand boutique destination. Four theaters, lovely carpet, new digital projection, handsome old-time box office. And then there's the adjoining bar and lounge. Commodious. Comfortable. A moviegoer with a taste for going out to the movies could get used to this.
At first, Fishman thought he'd refurbish the Logan on the cheap. New bathrooms, new seats, new carpet, and call it a day. "I was having a very hard time making a commitment to doing it right," he acknowledges. But then The Vision took over: He remembered how much he loved going to the Wilmette Theatre as a kid and thinking how great it'd be if someone really shined it up someday. His architect pals twisted his arm, and presto: The new Logan.
There's an Intelligentsia Coffee going in next door too.
"I wanted to keep the theater in the neighborhood because I have quite a bit of investment in the neighborhood," Fishman says.
He's still experimenting with the four theaters' worth of programming. So far, he and his staff have favored a blend of new (or second-run) mainstream titles, a little art house fare and various special events, such as "The Shining" for Halloween. The latter drew very well; in the straight-run category, "Moonrise Kingdom" was the biggest draw for the Logan so far.
Fishman knows he's not about to turn a profit any time soon.
"I anticipated losing quite a bit of money," he says. "But it's good for the neighborhood. We're nine months in. And we're doing well."