by Ben Sachs
I hardly need to reiterate the Portage Theater’s historic significance. Built in 1920, it’s one of the city’s oldest—and most structurally formidable—movie houses in operation. It’s also one of the most democratic, providing a de facto home for the Northwest Chicago Film Society, the Silent Film Society of Chicago (which enjoyed a banner season this past summer), horror movie marathons, and premieres of locally produced works. And the present management offers generous servings of popcorn at reasonable prices.
Yesterday, I spoke to NCFS programmer Julian Antos about the current status of the Portage. He felt there was no cause for alarm, as the current owners have a lease on the theater until 2015. And though the building has been on the market since August (at a going price of $2.75 million, with an additional $77,130 in property taxes), Antos said the owners appear to be in in no rush to sell. Also, Chicago Tabernacle didn’t ingratiate themselves with management by proposing structural renovations to the theater—such as removing the marquee—that would destroy much of the building’s history.
So why all the fuss? As Alderman Arena noted on Thursday, Chicago Tabernacle recently filed with the Department of Zoning for a special use permit that would allow them to operate the Portage as a church; per city code, the permit notification was made public last week. All this means is that Chicago Tabernacle took the necessary first step toward making an offer on the building—it doesn’t constitute an immediate threat. Still, public support matters in ensuring the Portage’s future as a theater—and what easier way to offer support than to attend one of their screenings? On Wednesday at 7:30, NCFS will present Otto Preminger’s unlikely musical Centennial Summer (1946), and the theater’s sure to host another Friday the 13th marathon any week now.