The Balaban & Katz theater chain already was at the forefront of Chicago entertainment in the early 1920s, owning the Riviera and Chicago theaters.
Then, when it opened the Uptown Theatre in 1925, the owners dedicated an issue of their weekly entertainment magazine to commemorate the event, comparing the architecture to an old Spanish castle and calling it “beyond human dreams of loveliness.”
The Uptown Theatre closed in 1981. Now, as the old movie palace is undergoing a planned $75 million restoration, the Chicago street artist who goes by the name Left Handed Wave has created a sprawling mural in Uptown that takes its name from that nearly century-old description: “Beyond Human Dreams of Loveliness.”
Spanning 150 feet along the exterior of Harry S Truman College, the recently completed piece spells out that phrase, with each of the 29 letters displayed in a font inspired by an establishment — past or present — central to the North Side neighborhood (with a nod to neighboring Edgewater, too).
“It’s all about Uptown,” Left Handed Wave says. “Each letter comes from something that was born there, that thrived there. Maybe it’s gone, maybe it’s still there. This is preserving something that really makes that neighborhood unique.”
Take the “R” in “Dreams,” which offers a nod to the Riviera Theatre, a movie house-turned-concert venue that’s been around for a century.
Or the last “E” in “Loveliness,” inspired by the Edgewater Beach Hotel, a lavish, popular and pink resort that was demolished in 1971 — not to be confused with the adjacent Edgewater Beach Apartments, still there on the south side of Bryn Mawr Avenue between Sheridan Road and Lake Shore Drive.
Left Handed Wave completed the mural at Truman College, 1145 W. Wilson Ave., on June 24. The 32-year-old artist — he doesn’t use his legal name for his art — says his street name was inspired by a cartoon he drew 10 years ago of a man in a banana suit waving with his left hand.
Shawn Jackson welcomed the “Beyond” mural as president of Truman College, which is part of the City Colleges of Chicago system. He says the school was often seen as an island, not really a part of Uptown, when he came in as president three years ago.
“It didn’t make a whole lot of sense for us not to be considered part of this fabric,” says Jackson, who’s also a board member of the neighborhood development group Uptown United. “What made the piece so unique was the fact that it embedded the richness of Uptown but also included Truman in that narrative.”
The mural features two letters inspired by the college.
The “N” in “Beyond” was modeled on the font used in print for the Falcons, the nickname for the school’s athletic teams.
The “S” in “Dreams” comes from the middle initial only, no period, no actual middle name of the school’s namesake, the nation’s 33rd president.
The college plans to place markers at the mural to explain the inspiration behind each letter, Jackson says.
Uptown United commissioned the project, with funding from a $5,000 grant.
The organization’s Justin Weidl says Uptown United has made a “conscious push” over the past year to produce art, particularly around the recently renovated Wilson L station, the “front door to the neighborhood.”
“Beyond Human Dreams of Loveliness” is the latest of more than 15 other murals that together make up the Clifton Avenue Street Art Gallery, most of them in the 4600 block of North Clifton Avenue. They include Steven Teller’s “If You Only Knew” mural at Cornerstone Community Outreach and “Uptown Alley Cat,” a mosaic by the artist known as Bachor that’s across the street from “Beyond Human Dreams.”
Left Handed Wave lives in Humboldt Park and has a studio in Logan Square. His street art career dates to his time at the University of Kentucky. Though he’s from Chicago, he makes this clear: “I don’t live in Uptown. But I care and am interested in preserving it and leaving a footprint, a creative spot for the future.”
He says he dug into Uptown’s history in an effort to do the neighborhood justice with “Beyond Human Dreams of Loveliness.”
Left Handed Wave previously was part of a “Wall Project” that saw artists from across the nation paint pieces specific to their cities. He painted a brightly patterned mural at 55th Street and Pulaski Road on the Southwest Side in August 2017.
He also painted a mural at Taft High School in Norwood Park in 2018, featuring geometric patterns in black, white and shades of blue in the school’s hallways and the ceiling.