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It's curtains for church's plan to purchase historic Portage Theater

A North Side congregation has bowed out of its bid to purchase and architecturally alter the historic Portage Theater, according to the office of Ald. John Arena (45th).

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A North Side congregation has bowed out of its bid to purchase and architecturally alter the historic Portage Theater, according to the office of Ald. John Arena (45th).

The decision by Chicago Tabernacle, a ministry based in the Albany Park neighborhood, came on the eve of a Zoning Board of Appeals hearing today. The congregation’s application for a special use permit to allow the theater to be rezoned as a church was to be deliberated at the hearing.

Chicago Tabernacle’s plans to buy and convert the functioning 92-year-old theater, 4050 N. Milwaukee, into a church facility faced a strong head wind from cinema buffs, preservationists and residents of the Six Corners area when the effort became public in March.

Even Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert weighed in on Twitter then: “Chicago has countless churches but not enough theaters like the very special Portage. Help save it.”

The deal was further complicated when the city’s Commission on Chicago Landmarks granted preliminary landmark status to the theater in April. The designation — which carries the weight of law until permanent landmark status is granted — protected nearly all of the features the church sought to change, including all exterior elevations and roof lines, auditorium and lobbies. That process remains ongoing.

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Church officials couldn’t be reached for comment. But Arena, who backed opposition to the church moving into the location, told the Sun-Times’ David Roeder: “We were never opposed to the church. We were opposed to that use in that place.”

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