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Move Over Ramova, Time for a New Face

By Michele Lenni in Arts & Entertainment on Jan 6, 2011 9:30PM

Illustration by Michele Lenni, Chicagoist
The night was August 21, 1929 and the film was a little picture starring the great John Boles, Louise Fazenda, and the lovely Myrna Loy entitled The Desert Song. As the film began and the lights drew to a close at Bridgeport's newly constructed cinematic gem, the Ramova Theater, the flickering light reflected off the glorious starry, night sky-inspired murals, punctuating every undulating nuance of the theater's grand and illustrious ceiling. This is the way the nights went for decades to come. At the Ramova's peak in 1940 the theater premiered screen legend Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator to the film's stars as well as hundreds of film fanatics across the Chicago area.

In the decades that followed the once beautiful and ornate faux-marble and gilded plasterwork, the deep blue ceilings adorned with thousands of stars began to fall into disrepair. Ramova moved from showing first-run cinematic greats to second run movies and finally settling on Spanish-language films, as the Irish and Lithuanians that called Bridgeport home moved out. Once the '80s hit the theater closed entirely and has sat vacant ever since, becoming more of a blemish on the street than a shining focal point.

This is the story for many of Chicago's once eminent theaters; most of which have sat quietly vacant while stories of real estate buys, renovation and a return to their heyday swirl among developers, city officials and neighbors alike. Such is the story for the Ramova theater.

Maureen Sullivan is one of the proud and few proponents of the theater's return to its former glory. Sullivan launched the Save the Ramova campaign in 2006 and has collected 5,000 signatures of people who want to see the Ramova restored. In fact, Bridgeport blog, The Hardscrabbler claims this compares that to roughly 11,000 voters who cast ballots in the 11th ward in this year’s mid-term elections.

Photo via metroblossom
Along with signatures Sullivan has a blog, a Facebook page and thousands of followers ready and willing to continue the fight to take what has now become a decaying landmark and restore it to its Art Deco glory days.

Part of the battle begins in the tax-payers' pocket books. Being that the Ramova is larger venue than its sister theater, The Music Box, $10 a ticket is hardly enough to cover 15-years of water damage that has ensued since the theater's demise. It's obvious it is going to take additional compensation from the community in order to make the Ramova as beautiful and enticing to the Red Box and Netflix movie watchers as it was back in its heyday.

In order to realize her goal and get more comprehensive information as to whether the theater is a just structural and financial venture, Sullivan has added a new ally to her corner. According to Hardscrabbler, she convinced architect Rob Vagnieres to produce, on a pro-bono basis, schematic drawings that show a more varied mix of revenue streams. Her goal being something similar to the Beverly Arts Center, or the Portage Theater, which is home base for the Silent Film Society of Chicago, but also hosts a wide variety of events and supplements ticket revenues with beer and wine sales. Sullivan also enlisted the company that did the original ornamental plasterwork, and which is still in business a few blocks away.

image via
Unfortunately the last bite Sullivan had on her proverbial line to restore the Bridgeport institution was in 2002 when the city of Chicago issued request for proposals from architectural and engineering firms. In fact, we are sad to say that when we checked the Save The Ramova blog, it hadn't been updated since 2009. Like many other portions of the city, with a stimulus boost, this could be Bridgeport's ticket to a new and exciting venue. But like many decrepit Chicagoland theaters, it may become more of a blister on the community's side than a reason to join hands. To this we say, speak out, join forces and get together already. With theaters like The Beverly Arts Center, or the Historic Portage Theater being re-canonized into Chicago culture, we need voices to speak out more than ever to new mayoral candidates about our once loved and beauteous institutions of the arts.

To learn more about the Ramova and the fight to restore it go to Maureen Sullivan's Save The Ramova Facebook page or call Alderman James A. Balcer to give a voice to the now silent structure.