The Avalon Regal Theater is one of Chicago’s most extraordinary theaters with exuberant ornament on par with the Uptown Theatre, the Congress Theater, the Oriental Theater, and the Chicago Theater. The Avalon Regal Theater is the last of the great theaters on Chicago’s South Side. Despite being in remarkably good condition, the building has been tied up in building court and mostly dormant since 2010. Jerald Gary, the current owner, has been making progress towards reopening the theater. His plans were given a boost when superstar rapper Kanye West announced his interest in seeing the Avalon Regal Theater reopened and pledged his financial support the effort. Originally from the South Side, West tweeted out to his 28 million followers, “We’re going to restore the Regal Theatre.”
The Moorish-style Avalon Theater was built in 1927 by movie palace architect John Eberson. Eberson specialized in the design of atmospheric theaters and used lavish ornament inspired by exotic locations to transport the imagination of theater-goers. His vision for the Avalon Theater was said to have been inspired by a Persian incense burner he found at an antique market in the French Quarter of New Orleans. The exuberant tiled lobby floor and ceiling resemble an Persian rug. The ornate lobby mosaics were designed by architect Charles Morgan, who worked with Frank Lloyd Wright on his Chicago projects. The walls and balconies are exquisite with their colorful ornament and arched opening. The 2,500 seat theater auditorium was designed to resemble the buildings of outdoor Moroccan market bazar with a simulated night sky complete with twinkling star lights. The Avalon Regal Theater was designated a Chicago Landmark on June 17, 1992.
The Avalon Theater operated as a theater for decades before being sold for use as a church in the late 1970s. In 1987, Edward and Bettiann Gardner, purchased the theater and invested approximately $10 million to renovate and reopen it as a performing arts theater. They also renamed the theater the New Regal Theater in homage to the Regal Theater once located at 47th Street and King Drive in Bronzeville which was the South Side’s grandest theater before being demolished in 1973. Reluctantly, the Gardners shuttered the theater in 2003 after it continued to operate at a loss for several years.
The current owner, Jerald Gary, purchased the building in 2014 out of receivership from the FDIC and its been reported that he invested over $1 million to update the building’s bathrooms, plumbing, electrical and HVAC systems. According to Gary, the building is within $150,000 of being able to complete the improvements required to reopen. A GoFundMe Campaign has recently been launched to help raise the necessary funds.
“Gary’s motivations to bring the Avalon back to life are deeply personal. Having grown up in South Shore, Gary always considered the theater, which towers over East 79th Street, within sight of I-94 and the Chicago Skyway, the crown jewel of the neighborhood.” (Ballesteros, Sun-Times, 9/11/18)
For over a decade, Preservation Chicago has helped to support and advocate for a reopening of the building. We are hopeful that with the right support the Avalon Regal Theater will reopen soon. It’s an incredible Chicago Landmark and could prove to be a hub for performing arts and a powerful economic catalyst for the South Shore neighborhood. We applaud the commitment and efforts of Jerald Gary. We hope that Kanye West uses his star-power and financial resources to support the Avalon Regal Theater.
Using the model of 46th Ward Alderman James Capplemen who lobbied hard for many years before successfully securing significant city funding to help restore the Uptown Theatre, we strongly encourage 8th Ward Alderman Michelle Harris and Commissioner David Reifman to do everything within their power to help to secure city funding to support the Avalon Regal Theater.
Avalon Regal Theater Opening! GoFundMe campaign
Kanye West’s Push To Reopen Regal Theater Is Welcome, Alderman Says, But Lots Of Work Remains, Ald. Michelle Harris (8th Ward) welcomes any financial support that will lead to the historic theater’s reopening – but says it needs much more than $150,000. Lee Edwards, Block Club Chicago, 9/28/18
Regal Revival, video by Max Herman, Chicago Sun-Times, with Jerald Gary, owner of the Avalon Regal Theater, talks about the impact re-opening the theater could have on the South Side. September, 2018 (VIDEO)