Bridgeport’s Ramova Theatre is an “atmospheric-style” theater, designed to remind moviegoers of a Spanish courtyard on a clear, star-filled night. But the theater closed in 1986 after a 57-year run, and now its dilapidated balconies and few remaining seats more closely resemble a ghost town from a Clint Eastwood western.
For now, anyway. A group of Bridgeport residents and IIT students vows not to let the Ramova disappear into the sunset, and if they succeed, the Ramova will have a second act as a live performance venue. To get there, resident Maureen Sullivan’s Save the Ramova campaign is soliciting support for a Ramova renovation while IIT students are assisting in her grassroots effort and also designing possibilities for a new Ramova.
This spring semester marks the fourth term that an IIT Interprofessional Projects (IPRO) Program team has joined the effort. As part of IPRO 2.0, a new version of IPRO that allows the same student team to work on a project for more than one semester, the team devoted its first semesters to gauging neighborhood support for a renovation effort, then to exploring potential uses for the theater. The nine students on the IIT team during the spring 2012 semester worked on designs and began to seek fundraising for the project.
True to IPRO’s interdisciplinary approach, the Ramova team combines architects, engineers, and designers with business and humanities majors who work on fundraising strategies and building awareness and support for the project, as well as ensuring that the new Ramova is built for maximum community benefit.
It’s also very meaningful for the students involved.
“You feel a strong sense of connection when you’re working on this kind of community-based project,” says Danilo Fontana (BAAS 2nd year), who joined the IPRO 2.0 team this semester. The theater “has the potential to be an economic and cultural catalyst for Bridgeport,” he says.
Many believe that a restored Ramova could anchor a shopping, dining, and entertainment district along south Halsted Street, an area with many empty storefronts. With a renewed Ramova, “the Halsted corridor could be reactivated, and that would be huge,” according to Limia Shunia, an adjunct professor who leads the IIT team.
Sullivan, who leads the renovation effort as a board member of the nonprofit Ramova Theatre Foundation, says the IIT students’ contribution has been invaluable—and impressively disciplined.
“They could have put together a floor-plan of what they imagined for the space, but instead they are really focused on what the community wants,” she says.
As a result, another generation of Bridgeporters may get the chance to be transported to a Spanish courtyard—Ramova-style.