Portage Theater

4050 N. Milwaukee Avenue,
Chicago, IL 60641

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Portage Theater

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Opened in 1920 as the Portage Park Theater (the former name is still inscribed over the Neo-Classical style facade), this was the first theater built specifically for movies (and not vaudeville shows) in the Portage Park neighborhood of Chicago. The theater was built for the Ascher Brothers circuit and originally could seat nearly 2,000.

The Portage Theater remained a popular fixture of the neighborhood for decades, becoming a second-run movie house in the 1960’s. In the 1980’s, its auditorium was divided in two by putting a wall down the middle of the auditorium.

Oddly, after the box office stopped being used, tickets were then sold in the lobby off a table and folding chairs set up school bake sale style.

The Portage Theater was shuttered in 2001 after operating sporadically for the previous couple years. The theater was restorated and renovated, and reopened in the spring of 2006 as a single-screen, 1,300-plus seat theater featuring both silent and sound classic motion pictures and other events, both on-screen and live.

It was closed on May 25, 2013, and reopened in June 2014.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 197 comments)

GFeret
GFeret on May 28, 2013 at 6:43 pm

(previous) management and the Northwest Film Society had printed up a screening schedule that in fact went beyond mid-April which proved optimistic because the owner pulled their plug friday 5/24, and hasty relocation for 2 weekend films was arranged at music box theatre plus the patio theater.

my impression is the (new) owner threw a fit resulting from denial of liquor license. if he gets it rest assured the portage will become like the congress theatre he also owns (perhaps not coincidently now suffering a liquor license suspension itself), and ultimately the locals may wish they hadn’t voiced their opposition to the religious organization that wanted to use the portage as a church.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on June 15, 2013 at 3:07 pm

Carranza seems like the type of guy who thinks he can do what he wants and always smooth it over when opposition arises. The world doesn’t really work that way however. There is always a day of reckoning and it seems like his may now have arrived.

GFeret
GFeret on July 18, 2013 at 6:56 pm

hi! this very recent sun-times article says a lot IMO about where things are w/ Portage (& Congress) and Carranza’s desired next step:

http://www.dnainfo.com/chicago/20130717/portage-park/wanted-new-operators-for-portage-congress-theaters

Mr. Carranza booted out the ‘little guys’ Northwest Film Society after they’d done so much work to fix up the Portage (for film use at least) over the years, and his latest tactic’s to enlist the ‘big guys’ realtors Paine/Wetzel to better deal with the liquor license denial problem.

(Do you smell anything?)

We know who our friends are and aren’t.

GFeret
GFeret on July 18, 2013 at 6:59 pm

correction, not Sun-Times but DNAinfo (Heather Cherone)

chicagonettech
chicagonettech on August 19, 2013 at 3:22 pm

My partner and I worked very hard to help both Dennis Wolkowicz and his management team, along with Alderman John Arena (45th)in Chicago as they attempted to save the management team and Portage Theater.

Having said that, please know that I do not speak for either the Alderman, Mr Wolkowicz, or Mr Carranza, but as someone who loves motion pictures and is saddened by the fact that this situation was allowed to spiral out of control.

As you read this, please keep in mind that I am fully in favor of getting the Portage re-opened, but that re-opening must be done with a management team who understands Cinema; is willing to respect the Portage Theater’s rich history; is willing to respect the neighborhood; and is willing, and capable, of making a proper investment of time, work, and commitment.

The Portage now sits there: silent and shuttered. The projectors, sound system and Organ have been removed. The Silent Film Society has moved to the Des Plaines, and the building, which has been granted landmarked status, [http://www.dnainfo.com/chicago/20130508/portage-park/portage-theater-granted-landmark-status] now sits shuttered – without the ability to provide entertainment

Here is the statement from Ald. John Arena (45th) regarding the unnecessary closing of the Portage Theatre in Chicago:

“I was as shocked as you to learn late Friday that Erineo Carranza, owner of the Portage Theater, decided to abruptly close. There was nothing I did that forced Mr. Carranza to close the venue.

It was solely his choice. He made that choice hours after the city’s liquor commissioner revoked his license at the Congress Theater. Later that same day, his attorney had assured me that the venue would remain open.

By way of background, Mr. Carranza purchased the company that managed the theater on May 14, and my understanding from conversations with city officials was that he had 30 days from that date to apply for a liquor license or transfer his ownership to another operator, as anyone who’s liquor license is revoked cannot obtain another.

It was my understanding from Mr. Carranza’s attorney that Mr. Carranza was engaged in discussions to sell the management company. My office received a letter May 16 from Mr. Carranza’s attorney acknowledging that reality and setting forth that plan to move forward.

On May 16, I had a meeting scheduled with Mr. Carranza and Dennis Wolkowicz (part of the previous management team) to discuss their future plans. Only Mr. Wolkowicz attended, however. I’m not sure why Mr. Carranza decided not to show up.

At that meeting, it was reiterated to me that Mr. Wolkowicz would continue managing the venue in the interim period, and a transaction was in the works that would transfer the management company to individuals able to responsibly manage the venue.

I was comfortable with this; Mr. Wolkowicz has managed the day-to-day operation of the theater since it reopened, and he has poured his heart and soul into the building. He is the reason that theater has been a community asset for the last eight years.

I also indicated that I looked forward to meeting the potential partners and expressed my support for a mixture of film programming and live entertainment at the venue, as long as it creates no deleterious impact in our community and is run by a responsible operator.

On Friday, I was informed by Mr. Carranza’s attorney that they intended to honor their contracts for the events booked at the theater for the foreseeable future as they proceeded through the sale of the management company. I expressed no objection.

Hours later, Mr. Carranza decided to shut the theater’s doors and change the locks.

It is important for me to stress three things:

First, Mr. Carranza never filed any paperwork with my office or the city applying for a transfer of the license. Contrary to what Mr. Carranza and his representatives have said in the media, there was literally nothing for me to formally object to.

Now, it is no secret that I have deep concerns stemming from Mr. Carranza’s management of another venue, the Congress Theater. I do not want that style of management coming to Portage Park. However, I never rejected any bona fide application for a transfer, and the city did not order Mr. Carranza to close the Portage Theater.

I have said that I will not support any application by Mr. Carranza until he can prove that he can be a responsible liquor license holder and venue operator. That stance continues in light of Mr. Carranza’s recent erratic behavior.

Second, even if I was supportive, Mr. Carranza is now ineligible for a liquor license. Section 4-60-030(h) of the Chicago Municipal Code states that no person may obtain a liquor license when they have had another liquor license revoked.

Mr. Carranza lost his liquor license at the Congress Theater Friday, pending appeals. The license was revoked because the Chicago Liquor Commissioner found that, while managing the Congress, he allowed drug use in the venue at least five times and failed to call police promptly when a near riot broke out between rival gang factions during a concert. (Incidentally, the fight was witnessed by an undercover Chicago Police vice officer who was investigating allegations that theater security confiscated drugs off patrons at the door and resold the drugs in the venue.)

At this point, the fact that Mr. Carranza cannot obtain a liquor license has nothing to do with me. It has to do with his inability to adhere to the Chicago Liquor Control Ordinance.

Third, the failure to obtain a liquor license is no reason to close the venue entirely with no notice. This weekend, a monster film festival was scheduled for Saturday, and a film presented by the Northwest Chicago Film Society was planned for Monday. These were not rock concerts where a patron would expect to be able to get a beer.

The Portage Theater is not a bar; it is a theater. Alcohol is incidental to the other activity happening at the venue.

In short, it was Mr. Carranza’s decision to close the venue when he did and how he did. He didn’t have to. Nothing forced him to. He made that choice to breach his existing contracts and shut his doors.

I am disappointed and saddened that Mr. Carranza has decided to use a fog of misdirection to avoid confronting the truth; he alone is the cause of his problems.

My door has always been open to Mr. Carranza, or any bona fide potential operator of the theater. That will continue. I will work with whomever has the commitment, character, and capital to successfully and responsibly operate that venue.

In the mean time, I want you to know that my staff and I continue to work to revitalize Six Corners, despite Mr. Carranza. We continue to guide multiple restaurants and attractions through the city’s permitting process, and you should see the results in the months to come."

DavidZornig
DavidZornig on May 22, 2014 at 10:14 pm

05/21/14 article about the Portage reopening in June.

http://www.dnainfo.com/chicago/20140521/portage-park/portage-theater-reopen-after-being-closed-for-year

DavidZornig
DavidZornig on May 29, 2014 at 1:18 am

An article dated today about the reopening. Apparently the liquor license was renewed without the Alderman’s knowledge.

http://www.dnainfo.com/chicago/20140528/portage-park/portage-theater-operator-venue-will-be-place-neighbors-can-be-proud-of

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on July 17, 2014 at 1:15 pm

Kind of sounds like someone got bribed. On the other hand the city is really hard up for cash right now. They may be doing anything they can to get money in the door. Whatever the case, the Jefferson Park Police Commander doesn’t sound like he’s in the mood to take any crap.

CrustyB
CrustyB on August 3, 2014 at 8:56 pm

The place is a dump.

Today I went to a showing of American Grafitti and a vintage car show. I understand this theater has been rehabbed but it was still crappy compared to other refurbished movie houses like The Music Box and The Vic. “30 classic cars” turned out the be four, no one took my ticket when I went in, “American Grafitti” started 15 minutes late and there was a loud buzz on the speakers. Walked out after 10 minutes. Let it turn into a church.

DavidZornig
DavidZornig on August 3, 2014 at 9:35 pm

Wow. I’m pretty dialed into the classic car community, and I hadn’t even heard of this. Must have been piss poor promotion in advance. My buddy has the replica Graffiti Deuce Coupe. He could have been hired to park out front. Even Candy still does personal appearances with enough notice. (Music Box would have probably had both.) The big Eli’s show was out on Forest Preserve Drive today too. So they were never gonna siphon off that crowd. Sounds like they just didn’t know what they were doing. Thanks for the heads up.

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