The historic Des Plaines Theatre is gearing up to reopen Saturday after nearly five months of inactivity, and next month it will host the 2013 Silent Summer Film Festival, its owner said Thursday.
The theater closed due to a partial ceiling collapse near the stage area. With the ceiling now fixed, Des Plaines officials have granted the theater the green light for occupancy through Jan. 14, though its long-range future remains unclear.
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Theater owner Dhitu Bhagwakar said Thursday he will begin showing Indian movies on the large screen again with two screenings of a Gujarati movie Saturday and Sunday. He said he has bookings through November, including a Punjabi youth festival.
The 2013 Silent Summer Film Festival was originally scheduled at the now shuttered Portage Theater, a 1920s-era movie house in Chicago's Portage Park neighborhood. The 93-year-old theater at 4050 N. Milwaukee Ave. abruptly closed May 25.
The film festival will run for six consecutive Fridays starting July 19. A spokesman for The Silent Film Society of Chicago could not be reached for comment Thursday.
The theater also has been booked for a month and a half by the Sigman Brothers production company, which plans to mount a musical play titled "Étude" opening Oct. 16.
Bhagwakar said the theater is being cleaned after replacement of the collapsed ceiling section, which cost roughly $65,000 to repair.
The Schaumburg businessman owns a 14-lane, upscale bowling alley in Roselle, which he says is doing well and helping fund some of the work at the theater.
"That's helping me pay the bills," he said.
The 87-year-old theater at 1476 Miner St., originally built in 1925 as a vaudeville house, reopened in November 2011 after nearly two years of extensive renovations, but has suffered setbacks ever since, staying dark for months at a time.
Part of the problem is the facility has no heating or air conditioning, which makes it difficult to operate during winter and summer months, Bhagwakar said.
"The first thing you need in the theater is heat and air," said Bhagwakar, adding he would like to install a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, which could cost about $70,000 that he said he doesn't have right now.
In addition, city officials have been working with Bhagwakar to bring the facility into code compliance.
Problems with the building include not having a fire-resistant curtain for live theater performances, the lack of a sprinkler system by the stage area, and issues with the boiler room and furnace room. The bathrooms also need to be made handicapped-accessible to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The deadline for completing all outstanding items originally was last Dec. 15, but the city council granted an extension to Jan. 15, 2014. The deadline for a separate list of items that were scheduled to be fixed by Sept. 15, 2013, also has been extended 13 months.
At the time the extension was granted, Bhagwakar told the city council he could complete the repairs within that time frame. He also promised to work on a fundraising plan, since bringing the theater up to code could cost roughly $250,000. Then the ceiling collapsed, stalling other steps.
"We don't know at this time," Bhagwakar said of whether he still could meet the deadline. "First we want to get going and then the next thing. I am looking into some investor or somebody who has interest in the community to be a partner. Someone who has some money."
City Manager Mike Bartholomew said it's unlikely the city council will grant another extension.
"They can have shows up until that Jan. 14 date," said Bartholomew, adding that the city has been lenient for years. "We give them an extension and then we don't hear anything. And then they come at the eleventh hour and ask for more time. Everyone is absolutely in support of a theater (downtown). We think it's a great economic engine, but it just needs someone to invest in it, manage it and be consistent with it."