By Gregory Pratt
7:31 PM CDT, May 25, 2013
Jim Christopulous and his son Luke, 5, were geared up Saturday for the Universal Monster Classics film festival at the Portage Theater, a vintage movie house that has been regaling Chicago cinema buffs since it opened in 1920.
With Luke dressed in a T-shirt illustrating an epic battle between Godzilla and King Kong, the father and son planned to see "Abbott & Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde" and "House of Frankenstein."
Instead, they were met by a doorman who told customers the Portage Park neighborhood theater has been shut down.
"All month we've been talking about this (show)," Christopulous said, later. "It's a terrible blow."
The 93-year-old Portage Theater won't be screening any films at all for the foreseeable future. The only drama at the movie house that sits on the historic Six Corners intersection – or is it a mystery? – will come from ownership and city officials.
Erineo "Eddie" Carranza, the theater's owner, claims that Ald. John Arena, (45th) has blocked his application for a business license and a liquor license after he purchased the Portage last September.
"Even before I invested in Portage Park, Six Corners already had a reputation of being a hard place to open up a business because of Arena trying to control and scrutinize anyone trying to open a business in Six Corners," Carranza wrote the Tribune in an e-mail. "All this bad press will only scare businesses more from investing into 6 corners."
Arena rejected Carranza's account. He noted that the application process hasn't even reached a point where he would be consulted by anyone about Carranza's licenses at the Portage Theater.
"This man, as far as I can tell, doesn't have any business sense and doesn't have any common sense," Arena said. "He spent $2.7 million on a theater that was up and running so he could close it down. Who does that?"
Further complicating matters is the fact that Carranza also owns the Congress Theater, at 2135 N. Milwaukee Ave., which has been cited for numerous code violations. On Friday, the city revoked Carranza's liquor license for the Congress after drug violations and fights inside that venue.
Given those problems, it's unlikely Carranza will be able to obtain a liquor license at the Portage Theater any time soon, Arena said.
"When somebody has an action against them for a liquor (violation), the liquor commissioner is not going to give him another license while he is under review for his current operations," the alderman said.
Carranza said he was forced to close the building until he can find someone to rent out the Portage Theater, which "could be many months or longer; I just don't know."
David Dziedzic, a former shareholder at the theater, said he'd be interested in purchasing the Portage. He believes Carranza sought to turn the Portage into a venue for other forms of entertainment, as he did with the Congress Theater, Dziedzic said.
"What Eddie valued was revenues of shows that may or may not have happened or could happen based on him getting a liquor license and packing 4,000 people in there and doing four shows a month," Dziedzic said.
Meanwhile, Jay Jankowski, the theater's doorman, turned away moviegoers who arrived giddily Saturday to watch some monster movie action. By the afternoon, Jankowski said, about 60 people had been given the bad news.
Christopulous said he'll miss the theater that has featured both independent films and "old-time monster movies that are fit for kids."
He said that on Friday he had heard that a new owner had taken over the theater and that it may be the same guy who owns the Congress Theater.
Unsure if that news was a preview of bad things to come, Christopulous brought Luke anyway in what had become a tradition.
"We usually watch two movies," Christopulous said, as his son stood at his side.
The Northwest Chicago Film Society, which had showings scheduled at the Portage, has found alternate locations for its screenings next week.
The 1953 Douglas Sirk melodrama "All I Desire" will screen at 8 p.m. at the Patio Theater, and the Music Box will host the 7 p.m. Wednesday screening of the 1967 documentary "Portrait of Jason."
Tribune reporter Nina Metz contributed.
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