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McHugh Construction restores 1920s Chicago theater

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Dive Brief:

  • Chicago-based McHugh Construction has completed the restoration of the city’s nearly century-old Ramova Theatre with a $30 million facelift, according to a Feb. 2 news release shared with Construction Dive.
  • For more than two years, McHugh worked with Columbus-based project architect O’Riley Office, Chicago developer Braum Revision and historic preservation specialists to revitalize the building, which suffered from severe water and structural damage since its closure in 1985, per the release. 
  • The project team turned the former single-screen complex into an 1,800-person concert hall. In addition, McHugh 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.

Dive Insight:

Ramova Theatre originally opened in 1929, and was the jewel of the Bridgeport neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, per the release, with its neon red marquee and Spanish-inspired architecture. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2021, the same year McHugh and the project team started to renovate the property.

“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,” said Andrew Totten, vice president of McHugh Construction, in the release. “But it was in such a state of disrepair after years of neglect.”

McHugh revived identifying markers, such as 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 midnight blue ceiling, per the release. The contractor took casts of the remaining terracotta pieces and had them remade. 

An open space is flooded with purple and other warm lights. A raised platform sits near the front of the room.

The newly renovated concert space at the Ramova Theatre.

Courtesy of Clayton Hauck


McHugh also removed the original movie theater seats to make way for a 22,000-square-foot barrier-free multi-level concrete floor in front of the stage. 

McHugh and its subcontractor teams drew 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. The builder also tapped its in-house structural engineering team, McHugh Engineering Group, for expertise on structural modifications and additions to historic and complex locations.

The renovated Ramova Theatre re-opened on Dec. 31 with a 1920s-themed live performance of music and dancing to ring in the new year.

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