Portage Theatre

4050 N. Milwaukee Avenue,
Chicago, IL 60641

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LouRugani on April 2, 2022 at 5:38 pm

Repairs are inching forward on the long-closed Portage Theatre, part of an ambitious, multi-million-dollar plan from its newest owner to revive the iconic venue. Owner Manuel Gliksberg said he has invested $1 million and navigated financial and legal difficulties, and he needs support from the city if he’s going to reopen the landmarked theatre. The extensive renovation will cost at least $10 million, he estimated. The theatre closed in 2018. Gliksberg, an investor who owns a real estate company, bought it later that year.

Gliksberg said he wants “to make this a forever space for the community,” but the building needs costly upgrades so it’ll have more bathrooms, be up to code and to be ADA-compliant, among other things. Gliksberg applied for a city grant to finance some exterior work with help from local officials, but it wasn’t approved. He’s also had to fix a taxing dispute and resolve building code violations, all of which have slowed his progress, particularly during the pandemic, he said.

Neighbors have long waited for the theatre to reopen. Gliksberg said he wants to inject life into the Six Corners shopping district to spur economic development and reawaken the community anchor, but said there’s only so much he can do with private financing. He said he’s willing to put a significant amount of his own money into repairs, but city funds are also needed for the project to make financial sense.

The Portage Theater closed as a cinema in 2001 after operating almost continuously since its debut in 1920. Gliksberg is the third person to take over the space in the past two decades. Soon after, Gliksberg was told he owed thousands in back taxes from the past three years. Those charges have since been taken care of and paid, according to Gliksberg and Cook County property tax portal.

In 2021, the city sued Gliksberg for building code violations involving exterior wall repairs, gutters and downspouts. City records show those violations are pending, but Gliksberg said a city inspector came to the theatre to sign off on the repairs. In the meantime, Gliksberg said he’s invested about $1 million in fixes to the building, including repairs to the exterior roof and rear façade, city records show. He also has done tuckpointing work on all of the exterior walls of the lobby and auditorium, replaced the roof membrane of the auditorium and put in new gutters and downspouts, he said.

Hoping to help Gliksberg push forward with more renovations, the Six Corners Chamber of Commerce applied for an Adopt-A-Landmark grant for the exterior façade last summer. The group sought $242,300 from the city as part of a five-phase revitalization project to fix and replace terra cotta on the nameplate and monumental arch of the theater. Funds were also requested to repair brick issues that have been safety concerns along Milwaukee Avenue.

The city’s Department of Planning and Development, which oversees the grant program, denied funding in January. City officials said Gliksberg did not yet have a comprehensive exterior and interior rehabilitation plan for making the theatre ready for occupancy, and he still owed taxes on the building. Andy Pierce, the theatre historian and chamber member who helped compile the grant application, said the chamber is on board to help Gliksberg apply for more government funding to complete needed repairs.

Gliksberg also wants to apply to use Portage Park Tax Increment Financing district funds for the project. Funds from the tax pool could be used to fix the signs, arch, interior plaster walls, ceilings and HVAC systems. The Portage Park TIF has about $6.5 million for 2022, according to the department’s financial overview. But that money expires at the end of the year. Planning department spokesperson Peter Strazzabosco said there is a lengthy approval process and it might be too late to process an application that hasn’t been submitted. Any uncommitted funds in the TIF will be returned to the appropriate taxing bodies when it expires, Strazzabosco said. “While TIF can provide some flexibility for certain eligible costs, either as a grant or a loan, the district will expire before the proposed terms could be reviewed, approved, closed and the costs incurred. The city is not aware of a formal plan or project for the building, and there’s not enough time for TIF to be used for a proposed project that wasn’t substantially moving forward by now.”

Gliksberg said he hesitated to apply for TIF funds during the height of the pandemic, when the future of live music wasn’t clear and when it was difficult to contract construction workers, architects and inspectors to determine the work needed on the theater. Even with limited time, he said he’s willing to put in money to draft a comprehensive site plan, hire consultants and architects to help carry out his vision. “I will take this gamble and spend the $600,000-$700,000 to bring in all the consultants and get the TIF money with the hope that the city sees how important this project is for the community, but now we’re up against the clock,” he said.

The chamber is hopeful TIF funding for the Six Corners area, even if the theatre doesn’t receive any, can be hurried through the finish line before it’s too late. Chamber President Michael DiMeo said Ald. Jim Gardiner (45th) and planning officials support using the money as soon as possible. “We have to push now. We, as business owners that have paid in, this is that rebate coming back to you that we want to see reinvested.”

Gliksberg also plans to apply for a grant from the Chicago Recovery Plan, which gives small grants up to $250,000 and large grants up to $5 million to developers, property owners and entrepreneurs. Strazzabosco said Gliksberg could also apply for property tax incentives that reduce the tax rate for 12 years and Pace financing for certain energy efficiencies to expand his chances of getting governmental assistance. Pace is a program by The Illinois Energy Conservation Authority that enables commercial property owners to obtain long-term, fixed-rate financing for energy efficiency, renewable energy, water use and more.

LouRugani on April 2, 2022 at 8:58 am

In its heyday, the Portage Park Theatre was a place for live music, theater shows and cinema events and a community anchor for school ceremonies, events and graduations.

Dennis Wolkowicz, a Northwest Side native and owner of The Silent Film Society of Chicago, and a co-owner took it over in 2005 and renovated the auditorium and lobbies, and he removed drywall that had divided the auditorium into two rooms.

The theater became known as a premier screening room for independent filmmakers who could not afford to book their shows at other theaters, Wolkowicz said. “We’d have up to 1,000 people for the silent film events,” Wolkowicz said. “That was pretty incredible.”

Eddie Carranza took over the theater in 2012 but sold it to an investment firm in 2016 after plans to revive it never materialized. The theater held shows until it closed in 2018.

Wolkowicz is hopeful the building can be preserved and it can again offer artistic opportunities for people looking to grow and uplift the community. “Once it’s gone, it’s gone,” he said. “This was a unique theater — it was a transitional theater before [artists] went into the big-scale movie palaces … .”

Becky Mocarski, a teacher and manager at Wildlight Yoga Studio in the Portage Lofts across from the theater, wants to see it reopen as a community space to offer cross-business partnerships for events. Its attraction would help small businesses along the corridor and increase the area’s economic stability, she said.

“If it’s drawing people to the community. … it would give that opportunity to see other businesses in the area,” Mocarski said. “Community-based, up-and-coming shows — if that could come back on a small level, the community and neighborhood would fully support that.”

Gliksberg envisions national music shows in the main auditorium that could draw 250,000 people a year, like the Aragon Ballroom in Uptown. Upstairs, he wants to provide a stage for those up-and-coming local musicians, with a similar vibe to Double Door in Uptown and Gallery Cabaret in Wicker Park.

He hopes the space can be a gathering hub for neighborhood events such as movie nights, farmers and artisan markets, holiday events and arts workshops.

“This is a passion project and something I want to do for the community,” he said. “Success means being able to create what 15-year-old me always dreamt of and sharing that with a community.”

(Courtesy Block Club Chicago, an independent, 501©(3), journalist-run newsroom)

LouRugani on December 11, 2020 at 9:57 pm

Today is its Centennial birthday.

Khnemu on December 31, 2019 at 8:51 am

Added new picture in picture section showing ghost sign on the rear wall of the theater building from the alley.

Mister_Comics on October 31, 2019 at 12:45 pm

Just added the 1929 newspaper ad to the “Photo” section. Thanks for the info.

Comfortably Cool
Comfortably Cool on October 29, 2019 at 12:57 pm

Advertised as part of Fox Chicago Theatres in 1929 newspaper ad displayed here

DavidZornig on July 31, 2018 at 5:13 pm

Not as I can see. Their website just reads “Coming Soon” on a black screen, and their Facebook page has been inactive since May when it was advertising the Patio Theatre’s events.

Paul Fortini
Paul Fortini on July 31, 2018 at 4:34 pm

Anything new happening at the theater?

DavidZornig on December 11, 2017 at 7:31 pm

It appears they will be closing in February 2018.


DavidZornig on January 8, 2017 at 11:26 am

Ah thanks, will do.

Broan on January 8, 2017 at 9:26 am

Try http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/17506 for those, david

DavidZornig on January 8, 2017 at 8:51 am

Rear or side entrance appears several times in this film beginning at the 59:17 mark.


rivest266 on November 13, 2016 at 9:06 am

This opened on December 11th, 1920. Its grand opening ad in the photo section.

LouRugani on October 26, 2014 at 10:43 am

There’ll be a lecture on abandoned theatres in partnership with the Theatre Historical Society of America at the Portage Theatre on Thursday November 13, 2014. Doors open at 6:30 and the lecture starts at 7:00. Admission is free. The lecture will be an updated version of “The Fall of the American Movie Palace” with photographs of the Loew’s Kings Theatre renovation.

DavidZornig on August 3, 2014 at 1:35 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.

CrustyB on August 3, 2014 at 12:56 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.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on July 17, 2014 at 5:15 am

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.

DavidZornig on May 28, 2014 at 5:18 pm

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


DavidZornig on May 22, 2014 at 2:14 pm

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


chicagonettech on August 19, 2013 at 7:22 am

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."

GFeret on July 18, 2013 at 10:59 am

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

GFeret on July 18, 2013 at 10:56 am

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


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.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on June 15, 2013 at 7:07 am

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 on May 28, 2013 at 10:43 am

(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.