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Portage Theater moves closer to landmark designation

Updated: May 7, 2012 8:18AM

City officials Thursday put the 92-year-old Portage Theater on track toward landmark designation and weighed in on a neighborhood controversy.

An Albany Park church has said it wants to buy the theater to use for its services. The proposal by Chicago Tabernacle, 4201 N. Troy St., has provoked opposition from the local alderman and residents of the Northwest Side.

They’re afraid the church could substantially alter the richly decorated auditorium or the exterior, which includes a marquee.

The theater, at 4050 N. Milwaukee, books occasional classic and historic movies and is the home for two film societies. Opponents of the sale also have said they don’t want to lose the theater as a resource for the arts.

In a unanimous vote, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks issued a preliminary landmark recommendation for the property, formally called the Portage Park Theatre Building. The decision starts a hearing process that could last several months and lead to final landmark approval by the City Council.

Ald. John Arena, whose 45th Ward includes Portage Park, urged the commission to act. “We’re hoping that it shows our commitment to the building and its current use,” he said.

Arena said he has recommended other properties in the 45th Ward to the church.

A staff report to the commission said the theater is an excellent example of grand movie “palaces” that were once common in Chicago neighborhoods. It called it a “strong visual landmark” in the Six Corners shopping district with “handsomely detailed terra cotta.”

The recommendation would not prevent the property’s sale, but could render a deal with the church impractical. Arena said the theater’s managers have put together a $2.5 million offer to match the church’s.

Property records show the building is owned by investor Robert Levin and Realtor Harry Perl. They could not be reached and an official at Chicago Tabernacle said its pastor, Al Toledo, was too busy preparing for Easter to comment.

In other matters, the landmarks commission recommended final landmark designation for the Pioneer Trust and Savings Bank building at 4000 W. North and the Riviera Motor Sales Company Building at 5948 N. Broadway.

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