Chicago — McHugh Construction, one of the Midwest’s largest commercial contractors, has completed the $30 million adaptive reuse transformation of Chicago’s historic Ramova Theatre from a long-shuttered single-screen cinema to an 1,800-person concert hall in Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood. As part of the 36,000-square-foot project on S. Halsted Street, McHugh also built out space for Other Half Brewing, an independent craft brewery and taproom; Ramova Grill, an 18-seat diner; and Ramova Loft, a second-floor 200-person event venue. The renovated Ramova Theatre reopened on Dec. 31, 2023.
Ramova Theatre originally opened in 1929 and became the jewel of the Bridgeport neighborhood with its neon red marquee and Spanish-inspired architecture. As times changed and ticket sales slowed, Ramova eventually closed in 1985. After sitting dormant for nearly 40 years, Ramova was officially added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2021 — the same year McHugh embarked on the building’s restoration.
“When we first arrived on the site, it was like a time capsule, with the ticket booth still in place — even with the same curtains from the day it closed,” says Andrew Totten, vice president of McHugh Construction. “But it was in such a state of disrepair after years of neglect. Severe water damage destroyed large areas of the plaster ceiling, and the terracotta façade on Halsted Street was missing several parts.”
Totten continues: “It was the exact type of complicated project our experienced restoration team loves to bring back to life. McHugh has been around longer than the Ramova Theatre, so we knew exactly how and when to preserve, protect, rebuild and start anew, like when we took casts of the building’s remaining terracotta pieces and had them remade. We were honored to return the building to its 1929 glory and create a magical experience for the community once again.”
For more than 2 years, McHugh Construction worked closely with project architect O’Riley Office, Baum Revision and historic preservation specialists to meticulously restore the ornate architectural details in Ramova’s original Spanish courtyard-style lobby and auditorium.
Revived are the pale-yellow stucco-style walls, red-notched archways and columns, decorative bronze wrought-iron faux windows and balconies, a clay-tile roof line and a ceiling painted midnight blue.
Gone are the velvety movie theater seats. In their place is a 22,000-square-foot barrier-free multi-level concrete floor in front of an expansive stage. While rows of spotlights hang from the ceiling, casting multi-colored glows throughout the concert hall, the venue’s new speaker system amplifies the onstage vocals and instruments. Multiple bars were installed in the back of the auditorium and a second-floor balcony was revived to offer clear views of the stage.
McHugh and its subcontractor teams had to draw on decades of historic restoration experience to conceal state-of-the-art HVAC, electrical, sound and fire protection systems within the early 20th century fabric of the theater building. McHugh also tapped its in-house structural engineering team, McHugh Engineering Group, for expertise on structural modifications and additions to historic and complex structures.
Ramova Loft, the 200-person venue on the second floor above the brewery and taproom, offers space for smaller performances by up-and-coming artists as well as events for local schools and community groups. The parking lot across the street from the building can also be used for community events such as farmers markets, and the empty lot adjacent to the south side of Ramova has been reimagined as a new outdoor beer garden.
“It’s rewarding to see all the dynamic uses come together at this one location to create an authentic community anchor,” Totten says. “I’m grateful for the skilled construction professionals I worked with to address every challenge of the existing conditions of the building to keep this high-profile, much-anticipated project on track.”
The adaptive reuse project was funded by investments from the local populace, tax-increment financing subsidies from the city of Chicago, a state grant and a Historic Places loan.
Since its founding in 1897, James McHugh Construction Co. has earned its reputation as a builder of landmark, one-of-a-kind structures in Chicago and other areas of the country. The company specializes in managing multimillion-dollar projects, from ground-up new construction to complex renovations and high-end interiors. For more information, visit www.mchughconstruction.com.
SOURCE: McHugh Construction