Bridgeport's shuttered Ramova Theater holds on, hoping for Hollywood ending

August 22, 2011

That monstrous traffic jam Sunday on the Dan Ryan had one benefit: It pushed me off the expressway and onto Halsted Street, where I passed the Ramova Theater, battered, shuttered, but still holding on.

The city owns and wants to redevelop the 82-year-old former 1,500-seat theater near 35th and Halsted. City ownership has likely helped spare the Ramova from the bulldozer, but has done little to help the theater's redevelopment beyond that. In recent years, there has been talk of converting the building into a bakery and other uses. A group called Save the Ramova has been lobbying for years for the theater's preservation, even for a non-theater use and is working with the big thinkers at the Illinois Institute of Technology. But so far, no developer has stepped up with cash on the barrelhead to make something happen.

The terra cotta detailing is cracking in places and the pigeons roost on the once ornate facade. Only a remnant of the historic Spanish-style interior remains. But darn if it wouldn't be a good thing to see this place up and running again. Built in 1929, the Ramova is a twin sister to the Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport--a theater widely recognized for screening quality foreign and independent films. (The two theaters in 1940 simultaneously hosted the Chicago premiere of Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator in 1940)

The University of Chicago is turning the old Harper Theater at 53rd and Harper into a five-screen venue that will show art films, kiddie flicks and wide-release movies. Could something like that happen here as well? Maybe it could be live-arts venue?

But the good thing, for now, is that the building is still here--and that's no small feat in this city, especially for a theater that's been shuttered since the 1980s. Here's hoping for a new curtain call for the old theater on Halsted.

Meanwhile, here's a well-done video on the Ramova and efforts to figure out its future put together by students of the IIT Interprofessional Projects Program:

 

In other news: Jim Peters, president and executive director of the preservation organization Landmarks Illinois, will leave his post at the end of October, the organization announced today. Peters, who has been with group since 2001, is leaving to consult and teach historic preservation.