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Chicago - Can't Stop the Serenity 6/22/07 - Po...

Chicago – Can’t Stop the Serenity 6/22/07 – Portage Theatre, before the show (Photo credit: meryddian)

The church has withdrawn its request for rezoning of the Portage Theater, and has pulled out of the bidding on the property.  While I don’t have any other details right now, I believe this makes the current theater operators either the only or the top bidders on the property.

This is wonderful news, particularly coming on top of the successful Patio Theater Kickstarter campaign.  Thanks to everyone who supported these projects, with donations or letters or signatures on a petition.  You’ve done something good for Chicago neighborhoods; you’ve aided in the process of bringing them back from decrepitude.  These two theaters will serve this area for years to come, showing second run, oldies, and holding special events that will enrich their communities.

This is all very exciting.

Portage Theater

Portage Theater (Photo credit: reallyboring)

p.s.  Don’t forget that the Patio Kickstarter campaign is accepting donations until tomorrow night.  While the donations are a sure thing now, every little bit helps.  So please, if you haven’t already pledged, consider giving a few bucks.

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4050 N Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, IL 60641 www.p...

4050 N Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, IL 60641 www.portagetheater.org/ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Portage?  Well it’s still in danger.  Here’s the situation:  A church located a few miles from the theater has outgrown its current location.  When church reps found that the Portage was up for sale they jumped at the chance to buy it since the property is enormous.  They plan to use the auditorium space for their presentations, the storefronts and apartments for other church business and events.  They also plan to make significant alterations to the façade.

The alderman, John Arena, has been working with the church to try to find other, more suitable locations, but so far the church has refused to reconsider.  This is not a matter of keeping the building owner from selling; there are several other offers on the property including one from the people who run the theater.

I haven’t yet run across any local who likes the idea of an enormous store-front church spang in the middle of the Six Corners business district, an area which used to be a thriving shopping and entertainment district, but has in the past twenty or thirty years become very down-at-the-heels.  The re-opening of the theater has been a tremendous boost to pulling more business into the area.  There’s a theater group and a museum of veterans’ art slated to open almost across the street from the Portage, and several new bistros and cafes which have recently opened or are about to open.  The theater is an anchor for the neighborhood.  Without it, and in fact with the church in its place, the area would almost certainly lose its momentum.  The presence of a church (in the words of the group trying to save the theater) “would mean the eventual loss of a neighborhood favorite in the Portage Theater. The net effect would be a loss of tax revenue, economic revenue, economic engine that fuels activity in the corridor, and set insurmountable restrictions for businesses looking to open restaurants, bars and places of entertainment moving forward.”

Why does business matter?  Because this area has been a ghost town for too long.  When I was a child it was the central business district for all the neighborhoods around it.  Then people began to leave the city in the late sixties and early seventies and bit-by-bit neighborhoods came apart.  We need our neighborhoods.  We need places where independent businesses can grow and thrive, where we can shop, dine, and be entertained close to home.  Actual, physical involvement in a community is a deterrent to crime; it raises the bar for that community.  Everyone benefits.

Why am I saying all this?  Because the folks who want to save the Portage Theater have started a petition that they want to present at the final Zoning Board of Appeals hearing.  The church needs special zoning permissions and the neighborhood is against granting them.  They came to the last meeting unprepared, and were given a continuation.  The board has made it clear that they will not get another continuation, so this is a make-or-break moment for the campaign to save the Portage.  Please consider signing the petition.  You don’t really have to be a resident of the area, or even a Chicagoan; you just have to care about what will happen to the neighborhood if this wonderful old theater is lost.

Sign the petition to save the Portage Theater

Go here to send a letter to the City of Chicago showing your support for the theater.

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4050 N Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, IL 60641 www.portagetheater.org/ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I live in Chicago where there is currently a resurgence of interest in restoration of old movie theaters.  In fact I live within walking distance of two absolute gems, The Portage and the Patio (Which my folks always pronounced “pay-she-oh.” I guess that was the way it was said before the fifties.)  The Portage has built its business around events like the Silent Film Society’s film festival and Can’t Stop the Serenity, a Firefly-related event that raises money for charity, as well as screenings of old movies.  Currently the building is in danger of being sold to one of those storefront churches, which is a horrible idea for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that the Portage is a landmark of the northwest side of the city. Right now there’s a lot of scrambling going on to save it, but apart from showing support for the theater as a theater, there’s not a lot that can be done to save it.

The Patio

That can’t be said for the Patio.  It opened about a year ago after many years of being shuttered.  The owner, Demetri Kouvalis, and his father, spent a lot of time and money restoring it to its former glory, and they’ve done a terrific job.  The Patio shows second run films for $5 a seat, and has a well-stocked and reasonably priced concession stand.  It’s the cornerstone of the Irving-Austin business district.  But it’s in danger.  Hollywood is switching to the digital format a lot sooner than anyone imagined, and all these little theaters have to switch too, to the tune of $70,000 to $100,000 each for the new equipment.

It’s doable, if you’ve had the time to build your business, but the Patio has only been in business for a year.  There are benefit showings of great old films, and I know they’ll happily take donations.  But in hope of raising the money, Mr. Kouvalis has begun a Kickstarter campaign.  His goal is to raise $50,000 by July 20th.  If he doesn’t, if he only gets $49,999 worth of pledges, the whole campaign is a wash and he’ll get nothing.  that’s how Kickstarter operates.

With a little over three weeks to go, there are about $30,000 worth of pledges. Word is spreading, and there are some terrific perks for your donations (Mostly of interest to Chicagoans, but still.)  But it’s by no means a sure thing.  That’s why I’m writing this.  I’m hoping both local and non-local friends will donate something to the cause.  Look, if you were planning on giving me a Christmas gift this year, and want to donate to the Patio instead, I would be THRILLED.

I’ve already donated and as the deadline gets closer I’m going to give as much more as I can afford because I think it’s that important.  Think about what it would mean to have this sort of theater in your community, and consider that the area that is home to both the Patio and the Portage has been depressed and fairly run down for a long time.  But just lately we have a museum of veterans’ art and a legitimate theater company moving in almost opposite the Portage, a wonderful coffee house a block down from the Patio, and a number of other businesses gearing up to join the Portage/Old Irving Park community.  It’s a very exciting time, and I want to do what I can to help.  I hope that you’ll feel moved to do the same.

And thanks.

 

 

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Tracy Rowan

August 2013

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