“The long-awaited revival of Bridgeport’s Ramova Theater has begun. City officials, developers and community members gathered Tuesday to celebrate the groundbreaking of a project that will restore the historic theater, 3518 S. Halsted St., into a live entertainment space, restaurant and brewpub.
“The theater, which has been vacant for more than 30 years, will be the centerpiece of the $28 million overhaul led by developers Our Revival Chicago LLC and Baum Revision LLC.
“The space is expected to hold up to 1,800 people and feature a renewed Ramova Grill, which was best known for its chili. Bridgeport native and Duck Inn chef-owner Kevin Hickey will be at the helm of the restaurant, officials said at the ceremony.
“The project to bring back the Ramova has been in the works for years. The venue is planned to open in late 2022, according to a statement.
“The city bought the theater in 2001 to preserve it for future development and spent more than $350,000 in roof repairs. City leaders struggled for years to find developers who were willing to invest in rehabilitating the deteriorating structure. In 2020, the city sold the property to developer Tyler Nevius for $1 and provided $6.8 million in tax increment financing to support the construction, enough to cover roughly 30 percent of the cost of renovation.
“‘I’m so excited,’ said Deborah Lessner, who grew up a couple of blocks from the theater. ‘It’s been ages. It was such a shame to watch it go to waste. Do you know how many of us had our first kiss in this theater?’
“Helen Antonopoulos worked at the theater’s candy counter from 1973 until 1985. She hopes the theater will revitalize Halsted Street. ‘In the ’60s, this whole street was so lit up at night. It looked like you were going to a party,’ Antonopoulos said.
“Maurice Cox, commissioner of the city’s Department of Planning and Development, compared the theater to a ‘sleeping beauty’ and said the area is ‘about to be awakened. I can’t wait to see what happens for Bridgeport and for the businesses on this corridor who will now have patrons by the thousands who come out.'(Qin, Block Club Chicago, 10/12/21)
“The Ramova Theater opened in 1929 on S. Halsted Street at W. 35th Street, as a “sister” to the Music Box Theater in Lake View, which was opened that same year. The architect of the Ramova Theater was Meyer O. Nathan.
“Like the smaller Music Box Theater, which seats about half as many as the 1,500-seat Ramova Theater, both were designed in Atmospheric style inside, their auditoriums built to resemble Spanish-courtyards. On the deep blue ceiling of the Ramova Theater, “stars” glittered before each movie, and through the archways along the side walls were scenes of the Spanish countryside. Like the Music Box’s lobby, the blue sky with stars motif also continued into the ceiling. Faux-marble and gilded plasterwork were also in abundance, even more so than at the Music Box Theater.
“The highlight of the Ramova’s life came in 1940, when Charlie Chaplin had the Chicago premiere of his ‘The Great Dictator’ at the Ramova Theater and Music Box Theater, since the Loop palaces which would normally host such events were uncomfortable with the sensitive subject matter of the film and wouldn’t play it on their screens.
“By the 1950’s, the Ramova Theater was no longer a first run house, but began to show second-run features.
“The theater was closed in April 1985 with ‘Police Academy 2’, and has since sat vacant, but very much intact; a reminder of the neighborhood’s past and a viable and eminently restorable venue for Bridgeport’s future. (CinemaTreasures.org)
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