WBEZ | Portage Park http://www.wbez.org/tags/portage-park Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Can a closed movie palace define a sense of place? http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/can-closed-movie-palace-define-sense-place-108990 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/PORTAGE-1.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>I&rsquo;m standing in front of the shuttered 1,300-seat Portage Park Theater. It opened in 1920, back during the silent film era. Its cream-colored terra cotta tiles and giant marquee can can be seen up and down the street. But it&rsquo;s been shuttered since May when its owner Eddie Carranza closed the building. That move displaced art shows, second-run movies<br />and a winter farmers&rsquo; market, all the kinds of things that make up the essence of a community anchor, according to David Perry, professor of urban planning and policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;Most people would suggest that anchor institutions are things that if<br />they leave, diminish the place immensely,&rdquo; Perry said. &ldquo;So the question is,<br />the&nbsp; Portage Park Theater, with its physicality, with its place, is this still Portage Park?&rdquo;</p><p>Well, it depends who you ask. Several groups that used the theater have moved on. The Northwest Chicago Film Society now shows its movies at the Patio Theatre about two miles away. The Silent Film Society took its annual festival to Des Plaines.<br />And there&rsquo;s no word yet on whether there will be a winter farmers&rsquo; market in the theater lobby, or anywhere in Portage Park.</p><p>With all of these institutions gone, some are rethinking what makes a community anchor, and if one&rsquo;s even needed anymore.</p><p>&ldquo;My philosophy is you don&rsquo;t put your eggs in one basket from an economic development<br />standpoint,&rdquo; said 45th Ward Ald. John Arena. &ldquo;You can&rsquo;t just rely on one thing to be the thing to sustain you and that sustains you and sustains your foot traffic.&rdquo;</p><p>He&rsquo;d like to see the Portage to reopen. But Arena thinks we&rsquo;ve moved beyond the idea<br />of any single place being an anchor. Instead Arena is working to fill vacancies with several businesses including Chipotle and a Jimmy John&rsquo;s.</p><p>&ldquo;Because the market is too unpredictable,&rdquo; Arena explained. &ldquo;We don&rsquo;t know how long the theater is going to be sustainable. And if one show doesn&rsquo;t produce, does that close the theater? Who knows?&rdquo;</p><p>But UIC Professor David Perry disagrees.</p><p>&ldquo;If they are place-based, I would simply say they have the potential to be an anchor,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;If they&rsquo;re simply profit-based, and they could change tomorrow and change again tomorrow, (it) is probably something that (I) would advise against.&rdquo;</p><p>He pointed to another anchor, the 70-year-old Sears celebrating its anniversary a block away. Perry noted that the giant retailer wasn&rsquo;t enough to retain other business along the street.</p><p>But Perry said all the empty storefronts aren&rsquo;t necessarily a bad thing. He sees opportunity in all these vacancies the alderman is trying to fill. The Filament Theatre Ensemble opened right across from the Portage. And that&rsquo;ll keep the sense of place alive, he said.</p><p>&ldquo;One of the reasons Chicago works even better than San Francisco or New York is that it&rsquo;s got neighborhoods like this where community theater can move into,&rdquo; Perry said.. &ldquo;Place matters in all sorts of different ways.&rdquo;</p><p>A few blocks away, at the Portage Park Farmer&rsquo;s Market, Todd Crnovich ducked the raindrops as he wandered among the stands. He bought honey from the same vendor he sought out during the winter, when the market moved into the Portage Theater lobby. Crnovich was OK with the alderman&#39;s plans to bring in some chain restaurants.</p><p>&ldquo;So I&rsquo;m not explaining to my kids, &lsquo;That&rsquo;s daddy&rsquo;s old comic shop, that&rsquo;s where daddy saw movies before he went home.&rsquo; I&rsquo;d like to be able to take my kid to a nice restaurant over there and take a walk with her and experience Portage Park,&rdquo; Crnovich said &ldquo;But that whole strip &hellip; it&rsquo;s nothing but memories.&rdquo;</p><p>Crnovich also would like to see the Portage reopen as a movie theater. But there are reports that a new tenant would use the venue for concerts. Owner Eddie Carranza couldn&rsquo;t be reached for comment. The&nbsp; theater website claims: &ldquo;movie and music theater operator coming soon.&rdquo;</p><p>Crnovich has mixed emotions about that possibility. He has fond memories of going to shows himself as a teen. But as a 38-year-old father, today he sees things a little differently.</p><p>&ldquo;Sure it&rsquo;ll bring money to the community,&rdquo; Crnovich said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;ll also bring what comes with concerts and venues like that. Kids acting goofy. Learning how to be adults and doing stupid things. Do I want that in my neighborhood? Of course not.&rdquo;</p><p>The future of the Portage Theater is still in question. It has landmark status, and is largely protected against demolition. And after more than 90 years here, Professor Perry said it&rsquo;ll continue to define the sense of place here in the neighborhood.</p><p>&ldquo;But it (the area) needs more than a Chipotle and a Jimmy Johns. In a very real sense it&rsquo;s going to require a substantial number of stores, &ldquo; Perry said. &ldquo;In the sense that Sears is an anchor of a mall, Portage Park Theater could be an anchor of the street. It could be.&rdquo;</p><p>How likely that is could depend on the Portage Theater owner, who&rsquo;s been coy about his plans.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Follow WBEZ Host &amp; Producer Yolanda Perdomo on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/MikePuenteNews">@yolandanews</a>.</em></p><div>&nbsp;</div></p> Wed, 23 Oct 2013 10:50:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/can-closed-movie-palace-define-sense-place-108990 Four corners, four gas stations http://www.wbez.org/blogs/john-r-schmidt/2013-05/four-corners-four-gas-stations-107132 <p><p>I grew up near a landmark intersection, though I didn&rsquo;t realize it at the time.</p><p>The year is 1961. Montrose Avenue, meet Austin Avenue. 4400 north, 6000 west.</p><p>Four corners. Four gas stations. What better monument to the American car culture of the mid-20<sup>th</sup> Century?</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/05-15--1961.jpg" title="Montrose-Austin, 1961" /></div><p>The Standard station on the northwest corner came first. Then, going clockwise around the intersection, there was Texaco, Mobil, and Pure. I&rsquo;m not sure in what order these other stations were built.</p><p>(There was actually a fifth gas station a few hundred feet east of the intersection. A tiny Sinclair station stood on the southeast corner of Montrose and Mason. Grandpa Price said it had been there since the 1920s. By 1965 it was gone.)</p><p>Next to the Mobil station there was a vacant lot where we played baseball. Like most Chicagoans, we called it &quot;the prairie.&quot; Other than that, I had no connection to the four gas stations on the four corners, and no stories to tell about them. They were simply part of the neighborhood.</p><p>During the 1970s, with gas prices rising, four stations became redundant. The Texaco was the first to go, converted into an auto clinic. The Standard became a bank branch. The Pure was an Arco for a while, and then a fast-food drive-thru. Today there&rsquo;s only one gas station at Montrose and Austin.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/05-15--1979.jpg" title="Montrose-Austin, 1979" /></div><p>Chicago had a few places where three gas stations crowded the four-corner intersections. Montrose-Austin was the only place in the city where I ever saw four stations on all four corners, though I suspect this might have happened in the suburbs.</p><p>Were there any other four-corner intersections within the city limits that had four gas stations at one time? I&#39;d be interested in learning where they were.</p></p> Fri, 17 May 2013 05:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/john-r-schmidt/2013-05/four-corners-four-gas-stations-107132 Lost landmark: The giant gas tank http://www.wbez.org/blogs/john-r-schmidt/2012-10/lost-landmark-giant-gas-tank-103286 <p><p>When I was a kid in the 1950s, a 300-foot-high circular metal cage loomed over the Six Corners shopping center. Technically, the structure was referred to as a gas holder. We simply called it the giant gas tank.</p><p>The tank was used for storing natural gas. At one time there were dozens of them scattered about the city and suburbs. The biggest one was located near Kedzie and Pratt. Built in 1926, it was 362 feet high, 254 feet in diameter, and held over 15 million cubic feet of natural gas.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/10-25--Gas Tank.jpg" title="The Six Corners gas tank (author's collection)" /></div></div></div><p>The giant gas tanks could be found throughout the world. In some countries they were known as gasometers. Here in America, they were most prominent in St. Louis &mdash; one reason the 1930s Cardinals were nicknamed The Gas House Gang.</p><p>My friends and I were always a little bit wary of the giant gas tanks. We&rsquo;d seen the movie <em>White Heat</em>, in which Jimmy Cagney meets his end in a colossal explosion atop an industrial fuel tank. It didn&rsquo;t matter that Cagney had been at an oil refinery, and not on a natural gas tank. It didn&rsquo;t matter that Peoples Gas assured us their tanks were totally safe. Where was Smokey the Bear when you needed him?</p><p>But by this time, the giant gas tanks were on their way out. Storing the gas in underground tanks was easier and cheaper &mdash; safer, too. The last Chicago-area tanks were dismantled during the 1980s.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/10-25--x--Division%20St%20%28City%20of%20Chicago%29.jpg" title="The 'M Squad' gas tank (City of Chicago photo)" /></div><p>Yet the memory remains. Every once in a while, I&rsquo;ll find one in old pictures&mdash;near North and Clybourn, or Oakton and McCormick, or 95th and South Chicago. When I play episodes of the classic <em>M-Squad</em> TV show, there&rsquo;s a gas tank a few blocks up Racine Avenue from the police station.</p><p>And if I really need a nostalgia fix, I can always go to Vienna. Not Vienna, Ill. &mdash; Vienna, Austria. There they&rsquo;ve converted four giant gas tanks into <a href="http://www.gasometer.at/">Gasometer City</a>, complete with apartments, a concert hall and a shopping mall.</p><p>Is it too late to rebuild the Six Corners gas tank? &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p></p> Thu, 25 Oct 2012 05:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/john-r-schmidt/2012-10/lost-landmark-giant-gas-tank-103286 Portage Park, past and present http://www.wbez.org/blogs/john-r-schmidt/2012-04/portage-park-past-and-present-98406 <p><p>First you have to know what “portage” means. Think of it as soggy land between two waterways. In our case, we’re talking about the area between the Chicago River and the Des Plaines River.</p><p>Go back a few hundred years. A traveler would row his canoe up one river, get out and carry it five or so miles across the portage, then plunk the canoe down in the other river and start rowing again. If&nbsp;he was lucky, the portage was flooded. Then he could row that canoe straight through between the two rivers.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/04-25--Portage%20Park%20%28main%20entrance%29.jpg" title="Portage Park the park in Portage Park the community"></div><p>Irving Park Road follows the general line of a local portage. So when a park was planned for Irving Park and Central in 1912, it was called Portage Park. That’s also the name of the neighborhood around it, Community Area 15.</p><p>Settlement actually began in 1841, when an inn was built along the old trail that became Milwaukee Avenue. Chester Dickinson bought the building a few years later, renamed it Dickinson’s Tavern, and made it into a popular watering hole. In 1850 area residents organized a town called Jefferson. Naturally, they elected their favorite bartender the first supervisor.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/04-25--Portage%20Park%20Map.jpg" title=""></div></div><p>Many legends grew up about Dickinson’s Tavern. Abraham Lincoln was supposed to have stayed there, and Stephen Douglas, too. One story says that when U.S. surveyors were plotting Milwaukee Avenue, they arranged a bend in the road so that their buddy Chester would have his tavern prominently displayed. The alternate version is that the surveyors got so drunk they put in the bend by mistake.</p><p>During the 1850s, the Chicago &amp; North Western Railroad&nbsp;tried to build&nbsp;a line through the settlement. The residents weren’t thrilled and one night they tore up the tracks. After that, the railroad changed its route.</p><p>The town of Jefferson became part of Chicago in the great annexation of 1889. A few years later streetcars&nbsp;lines&nbsp;pushed into the area. People followed. The park was opened, and more people came.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/04-25--Dickiinson%27s%20Tavern%20%28demolished%29-4050%20N%20Milwaukee%20Ave.jpg" title="Dickinson's Tavern (author's collection)"></div><p>Developers started building bungalows–hundreds of them. By 1924,&nbsp;the Portage Park community was considered “residentially mature.” The population was about 60,000, described as middle class and skilled blue-collar. Those characteristics have held up ever since.&nbsp;</p><p>Stores sprang up along the streetcar routes. The major concentration was as the triple intersection of Milwaukee, Irving Park, and Cicero. After Sears opened its store in 1938, Six Corners became one of the city’s leading shopping centers.</p><p>Dickinson’s Tavern fell victim to progress. In 1929 it was recognized as Chicago’s oldest brick building, but that didn’t save it from the wrecking ball. The historic inn was torn down and replaced by a commercial block–which later gave way to a strip mall.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/04-25--Milwaukee%20Ave%20commercial%20strip%20%281976%29.jpg" title="Milwaukee Avenue near Six Corners, 1976 "></div><p>What happens when a community reaches residential maturity? It tries to hold its own. That’s what Portage Park has been doing for 80-some years. Drive down most of the side streets, and the bungalows and two-flats look much the same as they did in the 1920s.</p><p>The business districts have not done as well. When people bought cars and abandoned public transit, there was less need for ribbon commercial strips. Six Corners remained prosperous into the 1990s. Today along Milwaukee or Irving Park, there are many vacant storefronts.</p><p>The largest&nbsp;nationality group in Portage Park is people of Polish ancestry. The population remains largely white ethnic. In recent years, the community has attracted a growing number of Hispanics.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/04-25--St.%20John%27s%20Lutheran.jpg" title="Bowling alleys at St. John's Lutheran Church"></div><p>Portage Park has many local landmarks. The Portage Theatre--the focus of an ongoing preservation battle--still operates near the site of Dickinson’s Tavern. Film fans make pilgrimages to Chris’s Billiards, where scenes from <em>The Color of Money </em>were filmed. Architecture tours often include the Karl Stecher House and the Peoples Gas Store.</p><p>Luther North High School is built on the site of&nbsp;an old semi-pro ballpark, Rockola Stadium. At St. John’s Lutheran Church, you can find Chicago’s last “church bowling alleys.” In the center of it all, the park itself remains, with its&nbsp;tree-lined walks and Olympic swimming pool.</p><p>And, of course, there are the bungalows.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/04-25--Portage%20Park%20%28Mason%20Ave%20near%20Montrose%20Ave%29.jpg" title="Bungalows on Mason Avenue"></div></p> Wed, 25 Apr 2012 08:37:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/john-r-schmidt/2012-04/portage-park-past-and-present-98406 Bank of America Cinema closes this weekend http://www.wbez.org/blog/city-room-blog/bank-america-cinema-closes-weekend <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/BofA_cinema.jpg" alt="" /><p><p style="text-align: center;"><img width="500" height="375" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2010-December/2010-12-17/BofA_cinema.jpg" alt="" title="" /></p><p>This Saturday the last picture show takes place at the <a href="http://www.facebook.com/pages/Bank-of-America-Cinema/64051570696">Bank of America Cinema</a>, at 4901 West Irving Park Road in Chicago's Portage Park neighborhood. At 8:00 pm<em> Babes in Toyland</em> starring Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy will screen. And I won't be there! I am going to miss it because I'll be celebrating a friend's birthday.</p><p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I am going to miss the weekly screenings at the place I still catch myself calling the LaSalle Bank Cinema. I'll miss the silent man in the downstairs lobby, who, if you arrived early enough for the movie, would hand you an 8.5 x 14 xerox copy of original reviews of the feature film (often by the late Bosley Crowther, the New York Times critic with a name as curmudgeonly as his tone). I'll miss the not-so comfortable seating and the lousy sight lines of the seventies-era, second floor auditorium, where a tall or large-headed viewer could easily spoil your view. I'll miss paying five bucks to get in and a buck or two for a bag of popcorn or box of candy.&nbsp;</p> <p>I'll miss the crowd!&nbsp; When the screening began, you could tell by the audible sighs and cheers who liked a serial (say <em>The Shadow</em>) and who liked a comedy short (more <em>Laurel and Hardy</em>) before their feature film. I will miss the folks who waited until the lights went down and the film started to roll before beginning their symphony of seat shifting, throat clearing, and candy wrapper removing. I will even miss the hard-of-hearing folks around me, muttering 'what did s/he say?' all the way through.&nbsp; I'll miss the whole scene, including the regular handful of film fanatics with the magic powers that transport them to each and every rep house screening in the city. And I'll miss observing what I often suspected was a seniors' mixer.&nbsp; Who knows what late-life romances bloomed in that glowing orange room? 'The Shadow knows!'</p> <p>I will definitely miss the excellent programming by Michael Phillips and gang, though I've read they are starting a Wednesday night series at the Portage Theatre just around the way. I didn't make it out to the BAC nearly enough but when I did I caught an amazing array of films, many of them available only on film. Lots of movie theaters have come and gone in this town. But Saturday nights on Irving Park Road will be a hard thing to do without.</p></p> Fri, 17 Dec 2010 16:28:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/city-room-blog/bank-america-cinema-closes-weekend Revision Street: Portage Park cocktails and internet computers http://www.wbez.org/amoore/2010/10/revision-street-portage-park-cocktails-and-internet-computers/39431 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2010-October/2010-10-26/portage park cocktails.jpg" alt="" /><p><div class="mceTemp mceIEcenter" style="text-align: left;"><em>I was hanging around Portage Park the other day -- if you must know, planning my Halloween costume, and no I'm not telling you what I'm going as -- and, my God, the abandoned buildings (and not-so abandoned buildings) up there are amazing. Also, the Internet Computers. Because nothing says &quot;Internet&quot; like a scrawled-on white board and an old-timey font.</em></div><p style="text-align: center;"><a href="/sites/default/files/archives/blogs//Cocktails.jpg"><img width="475" height="633" class="size-large wp-image-39432" title="Cocktails, in Portage Park" src="/sites/default/files/archives/blogs//Cocktails-768x1024.jpg" alt="" /><br /><em>(photo by Anne Elizabeth Moore)</em><br /></a><a href="/sites/default/files/archives/blogs//DoorJamb.jpg"><img width="485" height="646" class="size-large wp-image-39433" title="Doorjamb and Sky, Portage Park" src="/sites/default/files/archives/blogs//DoorJamb-768x1024.jpg" alt="" /><br /></a><a href="../../../../default/files/archives/blogs//Cocktails.jpg"><em>(photo by Anne Elizabeth Moore)</em></a><a href="/sites/default/files/archives/blogs//Internet-Computers.jpg"><img width="485" height="646" class="size-large wp-image-39434" title="Internet Computers, Portage Park" src="/sites/default/files/archives/blogs//Internet-Computers-768x1024.jpg" alt="" /><br /></a><a href="../../../../default/files/archives/blogs//Cocktails.jpg"><em>(photo by Anne Elizabeth Moore)</em></a><a href="/sites/default/files/archives/blogs//Internet-Computers.jpg"><br /></a></p></p> Tue, 12 Oct 2010 09:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/amoore/2010/10/revision-street-portage-park-cocktails-and-internet-computers/39431