“Ramova, a name first given to a grand movie palace and its tiny diner grill nearly a century ago, may finally reopen as a re-imagined destination space in Bridgeport this fall.
“But the $23 million question, with a budget from public and private funds ticking up after years of delays, has been when will the music theater, brewery taproom and revival restaurant actually open?
“‘November feels like a really good time frame for us,’ said Tyler Nevius, founder of the new Ramova with wife Emily Nevius. ‘But folks should be on the lookout because there could be some earlier surprises if things continue to come together well.’
“The timeline seems optimistic with the marquee still missing and most of the building still under construction. Yet the vintage neon sign has been restored and recently rehung out front, soaring two stories tall. The project seems built on surprise and optimism.
“When asked what we’ll experience at the new Ramova, Tyler Nevius shared his vision for a past reclaimed for the future.
“‘You’re going to see the big beautiful Ramova blade sign that’s got the red neon lettering,’ he said.
“‘You’re going to see the marquee that will look probably nicer than a lot of folks remember in the ’80s because all the lights will be working and the lettering up.’
“The original Ramova Theatre opened as a Spanish-inspired movie palace in the then-largely Lithuanian immigrant neighborhood in 1929, along with the Ramova Grill, which eventually became best known for its Midwestern-style chili. The theater closed in 1985.
“‘We believe live music will be the heartbeat of Ramova,’ Nevius said.
“Critically acclaimed chef Kevin Hickey and his team from The Duck Inn restaurant, also in Bridgeport, are the food and beverage partner.
“His spirit runs deep with Ramova and its long-lost chili.
“‘That entire building was a big part of my life growing up, between the Ramova Grill where we went for cheeseburgers and chili and breakfast, to the theater where we went and saw last-run movies on the cheap for way less than downtown,’ the chef said. ‘And above the Ramova Grill was my karate dojo where I went for years when I was a kid. So I was just in and out of that building so much from the age of 6 or 7 till I went away to college.’
“Hickey remembers the theater closed the year he graduated from high school. And he has an even deeper taste of memories with the chili.”
Preservation Chicago is thrilled that the Ramova Theater will finally be reopened after a long restoration and much longer period of vacancy. The Ramova Theater was a Chicago 7 Most Endangered 2012 along with a number of other neighborhood theaters. Preservation Chicago had long advocated to find a user for the Ramova in partnership with the Save the Ramova campaign lead by Maureen Sullivan, a dedicated Bridgeport neighbor and community leader.
Ward Miller and Preservation Chicago were even involved with the preservation and relocation of the Ramova Grill interior fixtures, a beloved neighborhood restaurant located next to the theater, to Benton House in 2012. Perhaps it’s time for its return to Halsted and 35th Street as part of this comprehensive Ramova Theater renovation?
Preservation Chicago continues to work with and support stakeholders in an effort to help the final Ramova Theater redevelopment be as successful as possible. We fully support this development and supported the use of TIF funds to make it possible. This is precisely the type of neighborhood-oriented reinvestment that Chicago needs to help make all neighborhoods vibrant places to live, work and explore.
- First Look: Ramova Theatre, Brewery and Grill, with chili and cocktails by The Duck Inn, Louisa Chu, Chicago Tribune, 10/10/23
- Look Inside Bridgeport’s Iconic Ramova Theater As It Undergoes A Massive Restoration, The 1929 movie house, a sister theater to Lakeview’s Music Box, is getting a $30 million makeover into an entertainment complex after sitting dormant for more than 30 years, Joe Ward, Block Club Chicago, 3/24/23
- Ramova Theater In Bridgeport, A ‘Sleeping Beauty,’ Readies For Its Comeback After Decades Of Sitting Empty; A $28 million restoration project will transform the crumbling theater into a live entertainment space, restaurant and brewery, Amy Qin, Block Club Chicago, 10/12/21
- The Ramova Theater History at CinemaTreasures.org
- Chicago Movie Theaters – A Preservation Chicago 2012 Most Endangered