04/02/2012 06:58 pm ET

Portage Theater Chicago Landmark Status? City Commission May Step In Over Threatened Theater

The historic Portage Theater, which may be closed and taken over by an area church, may be getting the lifeline it needs to remain a movie house geared toward independent, obscure cinematic gems.

WBEZ reports that staff from the city's Department of Housing and Economic Development's Historic Preservation Division is set to ask the Commission on Chicago Landmarks to designate the theater, located at 4050 N. Milwaukee Ave., as a landmark at a Thursday meeting.

Should that designation be granted in a way that includes its marquee and facade, the removal or alteration of the building's features would essentially be prohibited.

Last month, a report emerged that the Chicago Tabernacle, an Irving Park church, had offered to buy the theater, which has been on the market with a $2.75 million price tag for the past year. The theater has filed for a special use permit that would allow them to operate the building as a church and remove its marquee and eliminate its storefront businesses and apartments among a number of key structural changes.

Concerned residents formed a Facebook page titled "Save the Portage Theater," which has attracted over 2,700 likes as of Monday. Acclaimed film critic Roger Ebert tweeted last month, "Chicago has countless churches but not enough theaters like the very special Portage. Help save it."

Supporters rallied late last month at the revered theater, according to CBS Chicago.

"... These are some unique theater experiences that you can’t get anywhere else in the city or the state," Ald. John Arena said of the theater, which is home to screenings hosted by the Northwest Chicago Film Society and the Silent Film Society of Chicago, as well as a wide range of events including Reeling and the horror-oriented "Terror in the Aisles."

The theater, built in 1920, is part of a "small revival" of "opulent" movie houses in Chicago. According to Crain's, Ald. Arena's office has received nearly 400 emails on the matter, only two of which support the church's plans to take over the theater.

Dennis Wolkowicz, the Portage's managing director, told Crain's that an original investor in the theater is currently working on assembling a counteroffer to the Tabernacle's proposal.