The exterior of the Ramova Theater from Halsted Street. Credit: Amy Qin/Block Club Chicago

BRIDGEPORT — 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.

“We look forward to the opening,” Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11th) said. “This is the first step, although there’s been 1,000 steps, a couple of road bumps, a couple of pot holes, but we got it all fixed, we’re on track, and this is just an exciting day.”

Interior of the Ramova Theater, which is expected to be restored by late 2022. Credit: Amy Qin/Block Club Chicago

The venue opened in 1929 as a sister theater to the Music Box Theatre in Lakeview. The interior was designed in the “atmospheric” style of the 1920s, with an auditorium meant to resemble Spanish courtyards and stars on the deep blue ceilings that would glimmer before each movie.

Ramova Theater closed its doors in 1985, showing “Police Academy 2” as its last film.

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. 

McHugh Construction, the contractor hired for the renovations, has already started evaluating the existing conditions of the building and selective demolition, according to a company statement. 

Deborah Lessner and Helen Antonopoulos at the Ramova Theater groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday. Credit: Amy Qin/Block Club Chicago

Fans in attendance said they were thrilled to see the project finally moving forward.

“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,” Cox said.

The venue is planned to open in late 2022, according to a statement. 

“The only way for us to be successful now is if everybody in the crowd now — all of your family friends – come and make this your home,” Nevius said.

Take a look inside the Ramova:

Credit: Amy Qin/Block Club Chicago
Credit: Amy Qin/Block Club Chicago
Credit: Amy Qin/Block Club Chicago
Credit: Amy Qin/Block Club Chicago
Credit: Amy Qin/Block Club Chicago
Credit: Amy Qin/Block Club Chicago
Credit: Amy Qin/Block Club Chicago
Credit: Amy Qin/Block Club Chicago
Credit: Amy Qin/Block Club Chicago

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