Seats removed from Portage Theater, but capacity would not increase


A building code citation was issued last summer because a new occupancy placard had not been sought for the Portage Theater, 4050 N. Milwaukee Ave., after fixed seating was removed from the auditorium, but plans call for no changes in the theater’s capacity.

Many rows of seats reportedly were removed, and that presumably could lead to a higher occupancy for the 95-year-old theater due to more standing room.

However, Charlie Burns of the Portage Theater Group said this week that any changes to the theater would not involve a change in its occupancy, which is expected to remain at 1,321. The city Department of Buildings is reviewing construction permit plans that it recently received for the theater, but the department is not releasing details of the plans.

"Everything was submitted and in accordance with all city ordinances," Burns said.

Alderman John Arena’s chief of staff Owen Brugh said that a proposed site plan shows that missing seats would not be re-installed but that a theater manager "would be cited if he has more people than allowed under the 1,321 occupancy placard."

When former Congress Theater owner Eddie Carranza purchased the Portage in 2012, some residents expressed concern that the theater could become a nightclub, with little seating and bars installed in the auditorium. Most of the seats on the main floor of the Congress were removed when Carranza operated it.

In October the city Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection was reviewing plans to install bars in the theater, which has an incidental liquor license. There reportedly were two bars in the auditorium at a Halloween event at the Portage.

Brugh said that there have been other recent building code issues with the theater building, which also contains apartments and storefronts.

This fall citations have been issued for a broken boiler, not providing heat in several apartments, rehabbing a first-floor commercial space without permits, washed-out mortar and missing bricks on an exterior wall, missing sections of a guardrail and a broken door stop, according to department records.

The Portage Theater Group also manages the Patio Theater, 6008 W. Irving Park Road. Earlier this year the Patio operated without valid licenses for several months, until the licenses were renewed in October, according to the business affairs department.