Writer raises idea of converting County Hospital into film production center

Lerner newspaper columnist Ed Schwartz is promoting the idea that the old Cook County Hospital, that County Board president John Stroger is just itching to demolish, could have another practical use.

It could be converted into “the Chicago Production Center with facilities for movies, TV, film, music, and live productions,” he says.

Schwartz’ lofty plan is not unlike the many proposed for reactivating Chicago Studio City. The difference between the two facilities is that CSC is open for business, and it would take millions of dollars to convert County Hospital into a production center.

Still, it’s an idea as viable as any of the others suggested. And it shows general interest in the need to preserve and enlarge film production opportunities.

Schwartz points out that the hospital complex contains the basic elements needed for production and related activities: space for large sound stages and for rehearsal halls; production offices; recording studios; editing suites; storage space; loading and receiving; parking; public transportation and expressway access; all utilities, including electricity, gas, telephone service, water and sewage already on the premises.

The building could also contain office space for industry-related peripheral companies such as costuming, coaching, lighting, and the myriad number of related industries that supply productions with their various needs, he notes.

“We don’t need to be the ‘Hollywood of the Midwest,'” Schwartz states. “The film industry was happening here before Hollywood had running water. Essanay Studios on West Argyle was a production facility where Gloria Swanson and Charlie Chaplin made movies in the teens. They moved west in search of more daylight.”

The old county hospital doesn’t need a wrecking ball, Schwartz contends. “It needs the care of a preservationist, the wisdom of a historian and the genius of a creative architect” to convert it into a useful, revenue-generating facility like a Chicago Production Center.