Tribune photo by Jim Prisching
Photo Caption -
Charybdis founder Gregor “Mortis” Tatro takes some scaffolding down Wednesday as the complex moves out of Jefferson Park.

Chicago Tribune - Friday September 7, 2001
Front Page
Section 2 - Chicago Metro

Feeling Unwanted, arts center to move

Jefferson Park zoning fight ends

By Lynette Kalsnes
Tribune staff reporter

James Anthony Zoccoli glanced around the nearly empty room where stages, theatre seating and art once stood.

Several months ago, the Lincoln Square actor helped install the electrical system and expose soaring wooden beams hidden by a drop ceiling to create Charybdis Multi-Arts Complex, a studio, gallery and performance space on North Milwaukee Avenue.

This week, he helped dismantle it.

“It’s heart-wrenching,” the 28-year-old Charybdis member said, taking a break from loading scaffolding and props into a moving van. On Thursday, volunteers threw away the remaining furniture and gave the center one final sweep.

After a protracted zoning battle that split the neighborhood and led to Department of Revenue raids, tickets, court dates and hefty fines, Charybdis is moving out of Jefferson Park and looking for a new home.

Many residents fought the zoning change that would allow Charybdis to get a license to host theater performances and movie screenings. They complained of noise and parking problems and said they feared the center was more of a nightclub than an arts center.

Jefferson Park resident Bill Paulson, who helped lead the opposition, is pleased to see the group go.

“I would have loved to have seen artists’ studios and a loft up above,” Paulson said. “That would have been a great thing…I don’t think living next to a nightclub-type of environment is going to do us any good.”

Charybdis was shut down by the Department of Revenue over the summer after hosting events while awaiting the zoning change.

Charybdis founder Gregor “Mortis” Tatro pleaded guilty Thursday to running a business without the proper license and to violating a related cease and desist order. He was fined $625 in Cook County Circuit Court.

A volunteer also pleaded guilty to the cease and desist violation and was sentenced to 6 months’ supervision.

A separate municipal code violation hearing is pending. Tatro said he thought he was following the law by accepting donations instead of charging admission.

Ald. Patrick Levar (45th) said he had been leaning against the zoning change.

“I support the arts,” Levar said. “It’s not about art. They had a right to come in any neighborhood and open a business, but they needed to go through the proper channels.”

With no way to hold events, Charybdis could not pay the rent. And the building owners, who promised a zoning change in the lease, started eviction proceedings.

Charybdis instead agreed to move out, Tatro said.

The group is not packing away its dreams, just putting them on hold, Zoccoli said.

Tatro said this time he will be smarter about getting financing first, making sure the proper zoning is in place, and finding a neighborhood receptive to a corporation run by artists for artists.

Uptown, the South Loop and Logan Square are options, Tatro said. His group already has met with aldermen, including Helen Shiller (46th).

North Side lakefront neighborhoods – already home to many galleries, studios and theatres, high-rises and a more transient population – may prove more suited than wards marked by single-family homes, said Jennifer Gehr, a staff member for Shiller and managing director of the Defiant Theatre Company.

“If they do find a space in our ward, we’d welcome them,” Gehr said.

Tribune photo by Jim Prisching

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