Wednesday, April 18, 2012


There are very few places in my life that I've ever associated with feeling like "home".  Sure, I've looked at hometown landmarks with smiles throughout the years, but for every positive memory I can surely associate a harboring tragedy in the same location.  This feeling is often what I use to express my views towards my schools, playgrounds, parks, and in some cases, my own home.  I can count on one hand the places in this world that will truly feel like "home" to me.  The Portage Theater of Chicago, IL is one of these places. 

Our society has become a world where our marquee theaters have been overrun by digital monsters with modern architecture causing every building to resemble an Apple Store.  The Portage Theater is a dying breed and is unfortunately at the risk of being lost forever.  Originally opened in 1920, The Portage Theater is an architectural landmark and one of Chicago's oldest movie houses. Since being purchased by new owners in 2006, the Portage Theater has been restored to its original beauty and serves as the centerpoint of the Chicago independent film community and a key venue for up-and-coming indie music artists.  The Portage is a breeding ground for film festivals, live music, school plays, and countless other showcases of local art forms.  I have never seen a theater quite like the Portage.  Where else can you buy $3.00 popcorn, booze, and enjoy an evening of silent films with a fully restored organ?  Yeah. Come back to me when your precious Google can't even solve that puzzle.  The Portage Theater comfortably seats 1,300, and with ample nearby parking (free if you know the neighborhood), and surrounded by some incredible shops and eateries.  When it comes down to it, you really can't find another theater quite like The Portage.

The historic Portage Theater is currently threatened by the potential purchase of the building it is in by the Chicago Tabernacle Church. The church proposes to convert the theater into their worship space, remove the marquee, alter the auditorium, and eliminate the storefronts and half the apartments for offices and classrooms. The thing that needs to be realized is that The Portage isn't some run-down building collecting dust, they're trying to destroy a functioning movie theater and concert venue which serves the community. To make matters worse, the current owner has invested more than $100,000 in the renovation and stewardship of this historic theater with deep roots in the Portage Park neighborhood of Chicago...and all of that effort and money will have been wasted for a church that could buy any number of the run down Chicago buildings. The loss of this historic icon in the heart of the Six Corners Shopping District would reverse years of planning and development, and be a true travesty to the community.

1. Write a letter to the zoning board.  Download the a copy of the official letter here!
Zoning Board of Appeals
Jonathan Swain Chairman
121 N. LaSalle Street Room 905
Chicago, IL 60602
Clearly indicate on the envelope RE:The Portage Theater to ensure proper delivery

In the letter: Explain in your own words that the destruction of the Portage Theater, a neighborhood icon, will do irreparable harm to the largest commercial corridor outside the loop. Current business will be disrupted and future businesses will be scared away from moving into the community. Tax base will be lost and the Tax Increment Financing and Special Service Areas be harmed. The Portage Park neighborhood will lose a favorite and the Portage park economy will never be the same.

2.  Attend the Zoning Board of Appeals Hearing - April 20 - 9am - City Hall
3.  Sign up for updates on our contact page
4.  Join the Facebook page
5.  Tweet about the issue using #saveportage
6.  Recruit others to do the same.
7.  Donate! Any donations will help offset legal and other fees related to saving the theater. 
For more information, visit:

2 comment(s):

James Gracey said...

That cinema looks incredible! I can only imagine how atmospheric it must be to watch films in there. Alas, the potential fate of this beautiful building is one that has befallen all but one of the cinemas here in Belfast. All the older ones were torn down and hideous apartment buildings erected in their place. Now all we have are soulless multiplexes. Hope you guys are able to save this one. Good for you for highlighting its plight.

Zombette said...

I have seen more movies in this theater than I can remember. I attend some of the horror events they have here. It is old, dirty and gnarly as hell. It has character, history and is a great place to gather. I have some great memories here and have seen Trick R Treat and Rec 2 here.

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