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Portage Theater Could Be Taken Over, Closed By Chicago Tabernacle; Residents Fight Plan

Portage Theater Chicago

First Posted: 03/12/2012 6:01 pm Updated: 03/13/2012 9:22 am

The historic Portage Theater, a revered independent movie house that is an iconic landmark of the Chicago's Portage Park neighborhood, will see big changes and may close entirely should it be purchased by the Chicago Tabernacle -- and area residents are not amused by the church's plans.

The Underground Multiplex reported that the theater could close should it be purchased by the Irving Park church. Earlier this month, the Tabernacle filed for a special use permit that would allow them to operate the building as a church and remove its marquee among a number of key structural changes.

Ald. John Arena (45th) on Friday issued an alert to fans of the theater that detailed his office's dealings with the Chicago Tabernacle. Arena reports that he was originally approached last fall with the proposal that the theater be converted to a church. After consulting with community groups on the matter, Arena said he issued a letter opposing the change, but "made it clear that we would welcome the congregation to our community" by directing them to other potential locations in the area.

However, the church has reportedly gone forward with their plan, which also includes eliminating more than half the building's apartments and evicting many of the storefront businesses located in it. Interior changes to the theater, Arena continues, "could significantly impact the character of this historic theater."

The theater, built in 1920, has, according to the Chicago Reader, been on the market since last August with a listing price of $2.75 million plus property taxes. The theater's current owners' lease of the building lasts until 2015. It has hosted a wide range of events over the years including Reeling, "Terror in the Aisles" and screenings hosted by the Northwest Chicago Film Society, the Silent Film Society of Chicago and other groups.

Concerned residents formed a Facebook page titled "Save the Portage Theater," which has attracted nearly 900 likes as of Monday. Acclaimed film critic Roger Ebert tweeted Saturday, "Chicago has countless churches but not enough theaters like the very special Portage. Help save it." The matter is also the subject of a heated discussion on EveryBlock.

The Reader notes that the Portage Park Neighborhood Association, which also opposes the theater's conversion to a church, has called a public meeting addressing the matter for Monday at 7:30 p.m. at 4839 W. Irving Park.

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Filed by Joseph Erbentraut  |