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Film Buffs Fear Curtain May Be Lowering On Iconic Movie House

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The Portage Theater's movie-revival operation would cease if a North Side church buys the property. (CBS)

The Portage Theater’s movie-revival operation would cease if a North Side church buys the property. (CBS)

Mike Parker Mike Parker
Mike Parker has been a general assignment reporter for CBS 2 Chicago...
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CHICAGO (CBS) — A venerable old movie theater in Chicago’s Portage Park neighborhood may soon be shutting down its projectors and begin hosting a Chicago church congregation.

As CBS2’s Mike Parker reports, many in the community are not happy about that, including the local alderman.

“This has been serving this neighborhood since 1920 and certainly deserves to live on,” says Dennis Wolkowicz, the manager of the Portage Theater, 4050 N. Milwaukee Ave.

But it may not live much longer.

The old movie house has seen its better days, and nowadays mostly plays things like indie film horror festivals, movie classics and silent films. Don’t look for “The Hunger Games” at the Portage anytime soon.

Now a North Side church, the Christian Tabernacle, is moving to buy the theater and the half-block-long commercial and apartment building on either side.

“It’s very difficult to find assembly space on the North Side of Chicago,” associate pastor Matt Reneau says. “We need a sanctuary space that seats about a thousand.”

For Wolkowicz, saying goodbye to the Portage would be an emotional loss.

“I came here as a kid,” he says. “My older brother took me here to see ‘Ben Hur’ on a Wednesday afternoon back in 1960 … We want to see it remain, not just for my own enjoyment and amusement, but for future generations.”

The head of the 6 Corners Association wants to see the Portage remain because patrons help surrounding businesses.

“They don’t just buy a ticket at the show,” executive director Ed Bannon says. “They buy clothes, they buy food. There’s all kinds of spin-offs.”

One businessman, hair dresser Leroy Silva, says if he loses his shop in the theater building it’s OK with him.

“I’m a man of God myself,” Silva says. “If the church does expand to buy the building, then God will put me where he needs to put me.”

Ward 45 Ald. John Arena says he opposes the loss of what he calls an “historic icon.” Arena says he’s tried to help the church find other potential locations in the neighborhood, but that the church insists on the theater location.

The church has reportedly offered the current owner a little more than $2 million for the theater property.

Preservationists who hope to keep the Portage Theater in the film-showing business will hold a 7 p.m. meeting Monday at the theater.

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