Community groups scramble after Portage Theater closes

Community groups scramble after Portage Theater closes
Community groups scramble after Portage Theater closes

Community groups scramble after Portage Theater closes

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Built in 1920, The Portage Theater is one of Chicago’s cinematic treasures.

Literally, the building’s facade and interior space is landmarked.

But since a renovation in 2006, the Portage has developed a stellar reputation for its eclectic screenings of classic, silent, and horror movies, many of which are rare and/or can only be found on film.

That speaks to the partnerships the Portage has formed with a number of local film societies. And that’s why so many local film buffs were left in the lurch when the Portage abruptly shut down recently.

But the closing has had a big impact on other community groups as well.

Today I talked with Mark Goles, who has been the volunteer assistant manager at the Portage for the past four years.

His job these days is finding new venues for all the groups, from schools to dance troupes, who were displaced when new owner (since late last year) Eddie Carranza shut things down.

Now the Portage’s commitment to being a community resource goes way back as well. The theater is an anchor of the “six corners” business district on Chicago’s northwest side. Gaper’s Block has a great summary of some of the theater’s key moments here, including its stint selling war bonds and raffling puppies.

These days, Goles says they do graduations, weddings and birthday parties. Here’s a short list of some of the other events/organizations that are searching for new space.

1. The Portage has been home to a number of dance troupes, including Rico Music and Dance. Rico was supposed to do a second performance of their “Voice of a Child” gospel play this Sunday (the first one sold out). Goles said he found them a new venue at Schurz High School.

2. William P. Gray Elementary School. The school has held its 8th grade graduation at The Portage for the past 5 years. A school official said they’ve decided to use their own auditorium this year, though it isn’t big enough. But there was no time to find another location.

3. 6 Corners BBQ Fest Like any other neighborhood, Portage Park has its share of summer festivals. The Portage participated with screenings and a wrestling event put together by Goles (who previously brought WWF champion CM Punk to the Portage!). Goles says he’s looking for another venue.

4. Spook Show Entertainment produced the Laugh or Die comedy festival, The Prairie State Film Festival and the Chicago Horror Film Festival. They’re still in search of a new venue.

5. The Chicago Filipino American Film Festival was booked at the Portage. No new location has been announced.

6. Northwest Chicago Film Society, the Silent Film Society, Monster John’s Monster Shows, and Terror in the Aisles all had regular programs at The Portage. Northwest found alternative venues for some of their immediate screenings; but are still looking for a long-term solution. Meanwhile Goles says the annual Silent Summer Film Festival, which typically runs July through August, is still looking for a space.

If you know of other community groups looking for space - or who’ve found a home - please let me know!

Alison Cuddy is WBEZ’s Arts and Culture reporter. Follow her @wbezacuddy, on Facebook and on Instagram.