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McHugh Construction completes restoration of Chicago’s historic Ramova Theatre

Adaptive Reuse

McHugh Construction completes restoration of Chicago’s historic Ramova Theatre

Adaptive reuse project turns 1929 cinema into a live performance venue, adds a brewery and a taproom, and revives the Ramova Grill in Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood.

April 5, 2024
McHugh Construction completed the $30 million restoration of Chicago’s historic Ramova Theatre
McHugh Construction completed the $30 million restoration of Chicago’s historic Ramova Theatre from a long-shuttered cinema to an 1,800-person concert hall, creating a new community anchor in the Bridgeport neighborhood. Photo: Clayton Hauck

McHugh Construction, one of the Midwest’s largest commercial contractors, has completed the $30 million adaptive reuse 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-sf project at 3510-3520 S. Halsted St., 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.


Ramova Theatre originally opened at the tail end of the Roaring Twenties and quickly became the jewel of the Bridgeport neighborhood with its neon red marquee and Spanish-inspired architecture. However, decades later ticket sales slowed, leading to its closure in 1985. Ramova’s historical and artistic significance was officially recognized with its addition 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,” said Andrew Totten, vice president of McHugh Construction. “But severe water damage destroyed large areas of the plaster ceiling, and the terracotta façade on Halsted Street was missing several parts.

Ramova Theatre Chicago, before reconstruction
The Ramova Theatre during reconstruction by McHugh crews. Photo courtesy McHugh Construction

“It was the exact type of complicated project our experienced restoration team loves to bring back to life,” he added. “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 two 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.

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 – all were restored to evoke the beautiful and inviting hacienda ambiance.


Gone are the velvety movie theater seats. In their place is a 22,000-sf, barrier-free multi-level concrete floor in front of an expansive stage. 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, connecting artists with the audience. Multiple bars were installed in the back of the auditorium, and a second-floor balcony was revived to offer clear views of the stage.

“The South Side of Chicago is home to the majority of local artists, but it has had the least amount of high-quality space for them to perform and hone their craft – from an aesthetic as well as acoustic point of view,” said Tyler Nevius, Ramova’s developer. “The city and the South Side needed this.”

Restored Marquee of Ramova Theatre, Chicago
McHugh Construction restored Ramova Theatre’s neon-red marquee in adherence to National Register of Historic Places standards to light up Halsted and 35th Streets on Chicago’s South Side, just as it did in 1929. Photo: Clayton Hauck

With an eye to attracting big-name performers, Ramova’s new greenroom is worthy of any A-lister, with four separate suites – each with full baths – and an office for tour managers to conduct business, said Nevius. To protect artists from paparazzi and unauthorized personnel, McHugh created direct paths for touring vehicles to arrive, unload equipment, and privately access the greenroom and performance area.

“Andy Totten and I talked with quite a few artists as part of the process,” Nevius said. “First and foremost, we wanted to create a place where they would want to come and perform. One that looks great, sounds even better, and where people can enjoy a show in comfort, which meant a five-star air conditioning system.”


That required McHugh and its subcontractor teams 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.

“Multiple times we went to the McHugh office and worked on the whiteboard to understand how to fit everything into the venue,” Nevius said. “It was incredibly tight to shoehorn everything in while remembering what’s essential. For instance, it’s very important for the audience to have immediate and clear access to the bars and bathrooms.”

Hiring locals on the project was also a priority. “It was important to us to have our teams reflect the community we’re a part of,” Nevius said. “We began working with McHugh because we wanted to have local contractors and diversity on the jobsite, which can be hard to do in Chicago, where there is so much development going on so there’s competition for labor, but McHugh made it possible. We had a tremendous number of workers that live in area.”

Taproom at Ramova Theatre, Chicago
As part of the 36,000-sf project at 3510-3520 S. Halsted St., Chicago, McHugh Construction built out space for Other Half Brewing, an independent craft brewery and taproom. Photo: Clayton Hauck

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 an 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 said. 

The adaptive reuse project was funded by local investors, as well as big-name figures like Quincy Jones, Chance the Rapper, and Jennifer Huston. Tax-increment financing subsidies from the city of Chicago, a state grant, and a Historic Places loan added to the package. McHugh drew on its experience in Chicago public-private projects, such as 43 Green and 508 Pershing at Oakwood Shores in Bronzeville as well as Ogden Commons in Douglas Park.

Ramova Grill, Chicago
McHugh Construction revived Ramova Grill, an 18-seat diner adjacent to the Ramova Theatre. The original diner closed in 2012 after 82 years serving South Siders. Photo: Clayton Hauck


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. As a multi-faceted general contractor, McHugh constructs high-rise concrete towers, steel structures, and buildings using alternative materials such as cold-formed steel, heavy timber, and cross-laminated timber. McHugh has built and renovated iconic structures such as Chicago’s Marina City, Vista Tower, Trump Tower, Aqua Tower, Blackstone Hotel, and Navy Pier (including the 200-foot-tall Centennial Wheel and, most recently, the Sable Hotel at Navy Pier, Curio Collection by Hilton, and the Offshore Rooftop and Bar). For more information, visit www.mchughconstruction.com.


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