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Like the tree that falls in a forest when no one is listening, self-described “hobby enthusiast” Craig Golden has for years been making music alone.
But starting this month, Mr. Golden will be able to come out of his house and find others who share his passion in an innovative new space at 1245 Chicago Ave.
Over the last 14 months Mr. Golden and his partners Stuart Rosenberg and Dave Specter have transformed a building that once housed the Khaki clothing store and Minasian rugs into a venue where they can join other Evanstonians to eat, drink and be merry.
They completely gutted and reconfigured the building, creating three distinct facilities. From the front, they consist of a restaurant that is open to the public; then in the middle, a rentable event or concert space accessible to the public by invitation or ticket; and in back, a club with recording studios and other perks for members only.
Streetside, an elegant façade of Indiana limestone, formerly hidden behind a weathered wooden sign, hints at the thoughtful interior. The front door opens to Union Pizzeria, a chic but cozy collaboration between Campagnola restaurateur Steven Schwartz and chef Vince DiBattista. Walls of exposed brick and a hand-built pizza oven set the scene for a menu that emphasizes local and organic food and a 20-seat bar stocked with microbrews, imported and domestic beers, and international wines.
Mr. Rosenberg explains the logic of the restaurant/ music combination by saying, “Everyone likes to eat.” Restaurant patrons, he says, will “get used to a nice, sensual experience” and move on to encounter the arts in the next room. Club members will have signing privileges at Union Pizzeria, along with private dining facilities in the clubrooms at the rear of the building.
Doors behind the bar open to a 3,000-square-foot area with a mission as lofty as its ceiling. Its name, S.P.A.C.E., is an acronym for the Society for the Preservation of Arts and Culture in Evanston.
However grand the developers’ goal for culture and community, it is not new. “The idea has been germinating for years,” says Mr. Rosenberg, a professional musician and former host for National Public Radio concerts broadcast from Navy Pier. “Twenty years ago there was a private expression of the same thing.”
He and his partners envision this 3,000-square-foot room as a “blank creative canvas” for the community, says Mr. Rosenberg, a venue suitable for “any creative expression needing space.” Flexible enough for a business meeting by day, S.P.A.C.E. could then accommodate a social event or concert by night.
Along with a soaring, beamed ceiling and wood floor salvaged from an old East-coast barn, S.P.A.C.E. boasts a portable stage and state-of-the-art video and audio recording equipment and lighting.
Even before the formal opening, the room is in use. While he talks, Mr. Rosenberg helps break down the equipment he and his band have just used to rehearse for their weekend gig with Theodore Bikel in the Harris Theater in Millennium Park.
By fall, Mr. Rosenberg says the partners hope to have scheduled subscription concerts here – “jazz, singer/songwriter, folk and classical” – and, perhaps, “an Evanston hootenanny where everyone comes together to sing.” They expect the very presence of the S.P.A.C.E. “will stimulate interest and will tell us what will go on,” he says.
If S.P.A.C.E. caters to the general public, the back rooms are intended to appeal to a more specific population – passionate musicians.
This is the headquarters of the League of Creative Musicians, the focal point of the project and the repository of the developers’ dreams. “The club aspect makes [the project] unique,” says Mr. Rosenberg. He says he knows of nothing like it.
Mr. Golden is quick to qualify the club’s name as “tongue-in-cheek”; he refers to the League as “a co-op” or “a YMCA for musicians,” while Mr. Rosenberg compares it to a country club.
The space consists of four isolated rooms and one small vocal booth. Each space can function as a recording studio or a control room for any other. “The architecture of the studios is complex,” to ensure that sound is not transmitted from one room to another, says Mr. Rosenberg. The ceiling, for instance, is suspended from another ceiling; the walls sit on neoprene gaskets in the interest of soundproofing.
Yet community, not isolation, is the point of the club. The ambience is comfortable, even luxurious, though work is still underway. Cushy leather and chrome furniture – what pieces have arrived – invites lounging. Rooms are warm and inviting, each with distinctive windows and wall treatments.
The club is intended to be, says Mr. Golden, “a good hang”; Mr. Rosenberg sees it as “a home away from home.”
Clearly, they are invested here in ways beyond the financial. While carrying a brand-new desk into the office and pulling up the tape that still keeps protective paper in place on the floors, the two talk about their vision for the League.
Professional musicians will lend their expertise to amateurs; older musicians will mentor teens; groups will play for senior citizens. Commercial viability, says Mr. Rosenberg, is not the point. Above all, everyone will have fun.
For Mr. Golden, who is readying the place for the 250-some guests he expects at his 50th birthday party, a Walt Disney saying rings true: “‘We don’t make movies to make money,’” he quotes. “‘We make movies to make movies.’”