Chicago's Portage Theater: Where Monsters, Movie Stars, and Dudes Abide

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Chicago's Portage Theater: Where Monsters, Movie Stars, and Dudes Abide

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The Portage Theater, Chicago. (Photo courtesy of

The old expression "If these walls could talk…" certainly applies to the Portage Theater, a Chicago treasure. Situated in the heart of the Portage Park neighborhood, the historical movie palace is rich in culture and entertainment. A-list movie stars, red carpet premiere events, concerts, vampire lovers, Lebowski Fest, and even the King have graced the retro auditorium.

Portage Theater As We Know It

Opened in 1920, the Portage Theater has seen its share of glory and drama. The fate of the Northwest-side landmark has been jeopardized, first by a church that wanted to take over the building and now by a bitter court battle between current theater management and a controversial new owner who wants to evict them.

On December 17, 2012, there will be a "Save the Portage Theater As We Know It" public rally and fundraiser, featuring speakers, a documentary film on the theater, a jazz band, and raffles. Admission is free, and donations will be accepted.

'Elvis,' Movie Stars, and More

One of the best things about the Portage Theater is that it brings in a wide variety of entertainment appealing to people of all ages and backgrounds. Among the many special events throughout the years, the Portage Theater is home to the Northwest Chicago Film Society and the hugely popular Lebowski Fest, an annual fan celebration of the Coen brothers production "The Big Lebowski."

The Portage has held marathon horror film festivals, which featured Chicago icons Rich "Svengoolie" Koz and the passionate independent filmmaker David "The Rock" Nelson. Concerts, the "Chic-A-Go-Go" dance party, and a performance from Northwest Chicago native Rick Saucedo, one of the best Elvis Presley tribute artists in the country. Hollywood even graced the Portage's retro halls in 2008 when interior scenes for "Public Enemies," starring Johnny Depp and Christian Bale, were shot.

Where Punkers and Dudes Abide

An endearing quality of the Portage Theater is that it's a down-to-earth venue, where everyone from seniors to children, punk rockers and metal heads, film aficionados and devoted Lebowski "Achievers and Dudes" can all kick back and have a good time.

Thomas Stanely, 37, who lives in Chicago's North Park area, shared his personal memories.

"I have been coming to the Portage Theater since I was a teenager. When I first started going, it was a multi-screen theater with second-run movies, and I guess that didn't work out too well, because they closed down, and I thought it was gone forever. When they reopened, I was happy, because I had some great times there. I saw 'Casablanca' for the first time, a Chicago punk rock documentary, concerts, a Marx Brothers film festival, and attended Lebowski Fest. People come from all over ... I hung out with a guy who came in from Scotland. I also worked as a background extra on the Johnny Depp film, and yeah, that was a trip!"

Upcoming Events at the Portage Theater

In addition to the "Save the Portage" rally, other upcoming events include a red carpet premiere of "If I Was Your Girl - The Webseries" on December 15 and the day-long "Santa's Scary Saturday" on December 22 with several monster features, vintage collectibles, toys, and a costume contest for kids.

The Portage Theater is a treasure that has earned the right to remain a viable, prosperous member of Chicago's Portage Park community. There is just too much history, charm, and heart in the old building to watch it fade into yet another Windy City memory.

Patricia Batson has worked as a background extra in Hollywood, California, and Chicago, Illinois, in television and film productions such as "Boss," "Shameless," "The Chicago Code," "Glee," "Grey's Anatomy," "Contagion," "The Dilemma," and "Get Him to the Greek." In addition, her resume includes local ad agencies and TV and radio stations.

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