UP in smoke: Rooftop fire at Piper’s Alley complex in Chicago home to The Second City

When there’s smoke, there’s often fire. And when that fire happens in the Piper’s Alley complex in Old Town Chicago that’s home to The Second City, all’s well that ends well with a joke or two on social media.

But even as Chicago firefighters arrived on the scene at 1612 N. Wells to put out the fire on the roof of the three-story complex at North and Wells, just south of The Second City building, at 12:53 p.m. Central, the fabled comedy troupe’s Twitter tweeted: “The Second City: The only thing in Chicago hotter than the @Cubs.” Followed shortly thereafter with: “In all honesty: Please be careful (and safe) if you are in Old Town. The firefighters are working hard to make sure everyone is safe.”

As of 2:13 p.m., Chicago FD’s spokespeople reported that most of the fire was out, but that smoke and flames remained on the roof. “Some collapse of roof in progress no injury. Second city still good.”

Both Second City and UP Comedy Club, also located in Pipers Alley, have cancelled their planned shows for tonight, and has box office staff contacting any ticketholders to make arrangements.

The photo above, taken by WGN-TV’s Gaynor Hall, certainly looked ominous, though. And she reported seeing two people treated by paramedics this hour.

The complex also includes several businesses, including a Starbucks, GNC, Fleet Feet and Adobo Grill. “The firemen are working hard to contain the fire,” Jennifer Beltran Winkin, manager at UP Comedy Club, told The Comic’s Comic. “All of the staff, students and all other areas of the building were evacuated, safe and accounted for.”

Which means that it’s safe to resume joking about it. For now, anyhow.

UPDATE 4 p.m. Central: Chicago Fire Department spokespeople report the initial investigation found fire started accidentally in Adobo Grill’s kitchen and traveled up the vent to the roof. With “heavy damage” reported in the building at 1610-12 N. Wells.

The Chicago Tribune reported that the fire/smoke damaged The Second City’s offices but not its theater. The theater company’s offices were located on the second and third floors above the Adobo Grill restaurant where the fire started.

UPDATE 5:30 p.m. Central with photos of the interior of The Second City, taken by Chicago FD

UPDATE: On Thursday, The Second City’s CEO Andrew Alexander flew back to Chicago to assess the damage first-hand, and provided this report to Chicago Mag.

What all did you lose?
We lost two levels of offices—all of our complete finance department, all of our corporate communications department. Our Producers Row [the corridor where Second City’s creative bosses work] has some mild damage, but nothing dramatic. We lost probably 6,000 to 7,000 square feet of space.

Did you lose any archival material? Scripts, footage, photos, memorabilia?
On a personal level I did. There were photos that I didn’t have backups of—lots of stuff with John Candy, photos with the whole cast, personal memorabilia from 50 years of history with the company. But our archives are all stored offsite, in a place that specializes in keeping things safe and fireproof, so the scripts and photos are all saved. It’s a valuable part of our history, so we want to make sure we have it secure, and it pays off in instances like this.

Alexander said the theater already was renovating and rebuilding when the fire struck, and it’ll take a few months to get back to where they were on that. “It’s a mess, but we’ll fix it.”

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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