PORTAGE PARK — For more than a decade, Portage Park residents walked by the Patio Theater hoping to see it thrive again. It closed and reopened several times under different owners, and turning trucks damaged the historic theater’s marquee.
But a new owner is in the process of buying and fixing up the theater at 6008 W. Irving Park Rd., and hopes to make it the shining star of the neighborhood once again.
“It’s a travesty tearing theaters like these down,” said entrepreneur and concert promoter Chris Bauman. “I do shows all over the country and I’ve been to hundreds of theaters. And I’ll tell you these types of theaters will never be built again.”
Bauman, who recently opened Avondale Music Hall, has been booking events at the 29,508-square-foot theater for the past year, and now aims to buy it.
“I’m hoping we close by the end of this week but I’ll definitely be taking it over by the end of the month,” Bauman said.
The theater seats about 1,400 people and was built by three brothers — William, John and George Mitchell — in 1927. During its early years the Patio screened movies like the silent film “The Blonde Saint” and was home to vaudeville performers and the eight-member Patio Symphony Orchestra.
The Patio has seen a series of owners, most recently Eddie Carranza, try and struggle to keep the venue open and profitable. Bauman hopes his booking experience leads to a diverse lineup of programming at the theater, which needs more than cheap movie screenings to survive.
“You can build a venue like the House Of Blues and try to replicate the architecture found in places like the Patio,” Bauman said. “But you can’t fully recreate that experience of going to a concert at someplace with a legacy like the Patio, of coming away with an experience you can’t have anywhere else.”
While working to buy the theater, Bauman has been booking events for the last year and investing in the building.
“I redid the seats, they were totally falling apart when I first saw it. We refurbished every single seat in the theater. Now you can sit in every seat in the theater, which was a big accomplishment,” Bauman said. “And I had the roof sealed so it stopped leaking and fixed the water damaged plaster and repainted the lobby.”
Also on his agenda: Fixing up the historic neon sign, which has been clipped several times by semi trucks on Irving Park Road.
“I plan on diving deeper into [the sign issue] and weighing all possible solutions that I can control personally … once the building is under my ownership over the coming week or so,” Bauman said.
The city has been in contact with current Patio owner Carranza over the state of the marquee, according to the city’s Department of Buildings.
“The judge ordered the owners to place a concrete planter box as a barrier on the sidewalk below the marquee sign and to submit an engineer’s report,” department spokesman Gregg Cunningham said. “These things have to be done by the next court date, which is Sept. 11.”
Meanwhile, Bauman is working with Ald. Nick Sposato (38th) to secure funding help for the much-needed restoration work.
“The alderman has been wonderful,” Bauman said. “He understands the legacy of this building and how important it’s been to the community over the decades.”
Sposato has watched owners come and go from the Patio over the years, but said he’s hopeful about Bauman.
“We’re pretty excited about this guy,” Sposato said. “Chris seems like a really nice kid.”
The alderman said Bauman was dedicated and moving quickly to fix both the theater and the apartments surrounding it, and he was working to help him where he could.
“The Patio, it’s been open and then closed a few times now. So I just think we have to redefine what we use a theater like the Patio for now,” Sposato said. “I don’t think people go to the show like they used to due to Netflix. Why go out when you can just watch it a few months later at home?”
Sposato was surprised when he was told the Patio’s marquee was being clipped by traffic headed west on Irving Park.
“When I heard that I thought it was the oddest thing. It’s out about 6 or 12 inches from where the curb is. You’ve got to be driving really close and a really bad driver to hit that. But that flower planter they want to put out there is supposed to try and keep traffic away from the sign,” Sposato said.
The sign damage, which has led to at least three city citations, is not the only issue at the theater.
Previous owners, including Carranza and the Kouvalis family, have been cited by the building department 37 times since April of 2002. Issues included a lack of hot water in the building, lack of adequate heating and failure to properly maintain the theater’s exterior walls.
The cones and tape that are under the marquee right now are a temporary fix to try and keep that area clear from traffic and parked vehicles, Cunningham said. A new concrete planter that will be installed on the sidewalk outside the theater will help prevent trucks from getting too close to the sign, Cunningham said.
Despite the task ahead, Bauman is hopeful.
“I’ve already made a significant investment in the place over the last year to make it better,” Bauman said. “I just kind of want to create an art and entertainment area that will attract people. The more movies we play, the more concerts we host, the more those legacy residents will bring people from other parts of the city to the neighborhood. That’s kind of the beauty of a place like the Patio, it’s a natural marketing tool for the neighborhood. I love the Portage Park community.”