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Plan To Restore Essanay Silent Film Studio In Chicago

(Credit: Essanay Studios Website)

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A little-known Chicago link to the origins of the movie business could play a role in the revival of a gritty Chicago neighborhood.

CBS 2's Derrick Blakley looks at plans to restore a historic silent movie studio in Uptown.

Long before there was MGM or Paramount or Warner Brothers, Chicago's Essanay studios, located at 1333 W. Argyle St., was king of the movies.

When Essanay Centers' Gary Keller walks into the space, he thinks about how exciting it must have been to watch actors like Charlie Chaplin make movies.

Chaplin was Essanay's biggest star, but hardly the only one.

In an Essanay film, cross-eyed comedian Ben Turpin got the first-ever pie in the face in a movie

Gloria Swanson got her start here, too.

"It's rare and precious," Keller said.

The Essanay complex is now home to St. Augustine College.

However, the old film vaults are still intact.

"It's still used quite a bit for storage by the college because it's probably the safest place to put anything," Keller said.

Studio A, which was used as a silent film studio, is largely unchanged.

It's now used now mostly for meetings, but planners see it as part museum and part digital production center.

How can it play a role in Uptown's revival?

"Uptown has for about 20 years been focused on a strategy to develop the community as an entertainment district," Keller said.

In a neighborhood built on vaudeville and movies, a film history showcase would fit right in.

"Part of it is the story is largely untold," Keller said. "It's largely unknown by many."

The first phase will be the restoration of Essanay's terra cotta entrance.

That's expected to cost $250,000.

The whole studio and museum project will cost about $3 million.

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