We’ve been fans of the Ramova Theater ever since we first caught of whiff of its funk while walking down South Halsted one autumn day in 2004. The stench of decay and hopelessness made us look up from our Bridgeport News, cross the street, and spend a few minutes standing in the sun-crisped leaves sizing it up. Our summary at the time: She’s a character actor of architecture. One of those pieces that looks a dog’s dinner, blends into the background, but would be missed if someone pointed out that she was gone.
In the 17 years since, we’ve reported on a number of ideas to renovate, rehabilitate, and sometimes to just keep the old girl from falling down. Finally, one has gotten traction.
McHugh Construction has been swinging at this wicket since August for Our Revival Chicago, but today was the ceremonial groundbreaking for the rebirth of Ramova. It’s expected to take the better part of a year to transform the 1929 former flick forum into two theaters, plus a brewery, a tavern, and a banquet space in the adjacent commercial building, which used to be home to the previously mentioned News.
When finished, the downstairs will be a 22,000-square-foot theater seating 1,600 people. Upstairs, the balcony will become a smaller 200-seat performance space.
The most important question: Will the marquee be preserved? The answer to that is “yes.” Also being preserved are the ticket booth, the ceiling, and the plaster ornamentation. If the people working on this are interested in keeping some of the money in the neighborhood, there’s a joint just two blocks away that’s specialized in this sort of plaster and composite for the last 130 years.
Also in that building was the Ramova Grill, which served us more over-buttered rye toast than our own mothers. The greasy spoon died in 2012, but this project will bring in a new restaurant, keeping the name, but probably losing the wonderfully runny sunny-side-up eggs, perfect for crushing out your morning Lucky Strike in.