The fate of the Portage Theater remains a messy mystery

Landmark status granted, but eviction notice served on operators

March 8, 2013

Sussing out exactly what’s going on with the Portage Theater never has been an easy task: Witness the long and tangled tale of its aborted sale last year to the Tabernacle Church. But determining the fate of this historic Northwest Side gem has grown exponentially more difficult since its purchase in September by Erineo “Eddie” Carranza, who also owns the troubled Congress Theater in Logan Square.

As reported by the Sun-Times and Chicagoist, the Portage took a big step forward yesterday—at least in the eyes of neighborhood preservationists who’d like to see it continue as an eclectic movie palace—when the Commission on Chicago Landmarks unanimously urged that the 93-year-old venue be protected. The process started a year ago, but it still does not become official until the City Council makes it law.

Meanwhile, Carranza’s original lawsuit to evict the current operators of the theater, much-loved movie buffs Dennis Wolkowicz and Dave Dziedzic, turns out to have been “dismissed by stipulation/satisfaction” in Cook County Court on Feb. 8. That means that the movie operators either settled issues of back rent with new owner Carranza or the court found his legal filings lacking.

At the same time, things seem to be more dire for Wolkowicz and Dziedzic than ever: Sources say they were served last week with a 60-day eviction notice, possibly as part of a new lawsuit filed by Carranza. A search of court records so far has yielded naught, but the theater operators are not booking any new events at the Portage after mid-April.

Neither the current theater operators nor their attorneys responded to requests for comment. And Carranza’s new attorney for the liquor hearings on the Congress, his third lawyer in those proceedings in seven months, has declined to comment even on the question of whether he’s also representing his client in dealings with the Portage.

All of this sounds like a routine from the sort of classic movie that Wolkowicz and Dziedzic take great pride in showing: “Who’s on first?” “I dunno.” “Third base!” But the questions are serious: Will the current operators be able to continue doing what they’ve been doing at the Portage? Will the theater have a new identity akin to what Carranza is doing with music programming at the Congress? Or will things go dark at the theater as everything gets tangled up in an endless mess of legal proceedings?

Who’s on first, indeed?

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Earlier reports about Carranza, the Congress and the Portage:

March 6: Congress Theater hearing rescheduled

Feb. 22: Congress Theater restoration underway, but it’s got a long way to go

Jan. 16: Congress Theater liquor hearings begin with undercover cop’s testimony

Dec. 3, 2012: A rally to save the Portage Theater ‘as we know it’

Nov. 28, 2012: The Portage Theater uses Graham Elliot’s name in vain

Nov. 2, 2012: Congress Theater’s new security chief: An ex-cop with a troubled past

Oct. 31, 2012: Congress Theater police calls rank with Soldier Field, United Center

Sept. 23, 2012: How did things turn so bad so fast at the Portage Theater?

Sept. 22, 2012: New Owner of the Portage Theater moves to evict current operators

Sept. 16, 2012: Congress Theater splits with development partner

Sept. 11, 2012: The Portage Theater: What’s Eddie up to?

July 26, 2012: Congress Theater partners up… and looks to expand

April 14, 2012: More trouble at the Congress Theater

March 28, 2012: Critical of Congress security, headliner brings his own

March 25, 2012: Congress Theater responds to complaints

March 22, 2012: City to Congress Theater: Clean up your act!