In what is perhaps the best thing to happen to Bridgeport since free range gluten-free beard conditioner, plans have been filed with the city to resurrect the Ramova Theater.
The Ramova is one of dozens of old performance spaces scattered across Chicago that were formerly hubs for their neighborhoods, providing entertainment, information, and places where people could go out and meet their friends and soon-to-be-friends socially. Think of it as the YouTube comments section of the last century, but without all the mindless anger.
If you’ve walked down Halsted Street in Bridgeport in the last few years, you’ve probably either seen or smelled the Ramova. It closed in 1986, and has been boarded up with metal grates for as long as we can remember. Admittedly, we haven’t been called to that area in at least five years, but we’ll never forget its unique brand of scent: a melange of mildew and Bubbly Creek as offensive as it is recognizable, perhaps best suited for stripping the paint from a ’72 Pinto at Victory Auto Wreckers.
Perhaps that’s why we’re so excited about this plan. It’s not just that another venerable Chicago entertainment venue may get another chance to delight. It’s because Bridgeport deserves this kind of love. The north side’s aged venues have had plenty of revitalization plans in recent years, including the well-executed 1980’s restoration of the Ramova’s little sister, The Music Box Theater in Lake View. But in spite of rapid growth and economic potential, the near south side still gets treated like the rented mule in Chicago’s stable.
The Ramova restoration plan includes bringing back the main seating area on the first floor, and balcony seating areas on the south and east sides of the second floor. The total capacity should be around 1,800 souls. There are also concession stands planned on both levels to feed those souls.
In addition to reviving the actual Ramova theater, since this is Chicago — and more specifically because this is Bridgeport — a micro-brewery is also planned. The brewery will face South Halsted Street, immediately to the right of the Ramova lobby, and will have both public and private dining areas upstairs. The commercial space occupied by the Bridgeport News will become a restaurant on the ground floor and offices upstairs, and the vacant lot south of the building will become an outdoor patio.
Outside, there’s good new for both terra cotta and marquee fans, as both elements of this building will be saved and restored. As a point of interest, the Ramova marquee is 22 feet, four inches tall and its top is 42 feet, ten inches above the sidewalk. Math rules. The “Ramova” sign facing Halsted Street is about 13 feet wide. That’s a less precise figure because we suck at fractions.
The art glass above the double-height lobby will also get fixed up. About the only thing that won’t be saved are the doors. After 30 years of neglect, you can imagine they’re not exactly in tip-top shape.
While this 1929 theater is known to history for showing groundbreaking films that more mainstream theaters shied away from, its celluloid era will remain in the past. The Brooklyn developers of this project see it as a live entertainment venue. But that still leaves room for pushing artistic boundaries.
- Address: 3506-3520 South Halsted Street
- Developer: Our Revival Chicago, LLC
- For realsies: Tyler Nevius
- Architecture firm:
- Net site area: 22,369 square feet
- Floor area ratio: 2.0
- Maximum building height: 35 feet
- Maximum length: 181 feet, nine inches (includes theater, adjacent commercial building, adjacent vacant lot to be incorporated into renovation as an outdoor patio)
- Maximum width: 150 feet
- Maximum marquee height: 42 feet, ten inches
- Maximum occupancy: 1,800 people
- Restaurant size: 4,000 square feet
- Brewery size: 5,000 square feet
- Loading docks: One