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Portage Theater Sale: Final Zoning Meeting Friday Will Determine Landmark's Fate

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The Portage Theater, a Chicago landmark in Portage Park.
The Portage Theater, a Chicago landmark in Portage Park.

Chicagoans interested in joining the initiative to save the Portage Theater have a long fight ahead of them this Friday.

The final Zoning Board meeting to determine the future of the Chicago landmark will be held on Friday, June 15, at 9 a.m. at 121 N. LaSalle, according to The Underground Multiplex blog. The board could decide that day whether a megachurch can purchase the Portage Theater and adapt it for their own use, which Portage Park leaders and community members have vehemently opposed.

At least 50 residents will be bused in by the Portage Park Neighborhood Association to object to the purchase.

In March, the Chicago Tabernacle expressed a desire to purchase the theater and 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) alerted fans of the theater to his office's prior dealings with the group, explaining that he was originally approached last fall with the proposal that the theater be converted to a church, but after consulting with community groups he issued a letter opposing the change and welcomed the church to consider other potential locations in the area.

But the church has refused to abandon 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 continued, "could significantly impact the character of this historic theater."

The Facebook group "Save the Portage Theater," which has rallied much of the opposition to the sale, reported Tuesday that the Chicago Tabernacle is allegedly rallying their congregation to attend the meeting and appeal directly to board members to lobby for the right to buy the building.

According to the Chicago Reader, the building, built in 1920, has 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.

The theater 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.

Renowned film critic Roger Ebert weighed in on the situation on Twitter in April:

"Chicago has countless churches but not enough theaters like the very special Portage. Help save it."

Flickr photo by juggernautco.

WATCH a video that fans of the Portage have created as part of their effort to save the historic theater:

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