POTENTIAL WIN: Preservation and Entertainment Recognized as Key Elements for Revitalization of 71st Street

Threatened: Jeffrey Theater Building Complex, 7054 S. Jeffery Blvd./1952 E. 71st Street by William P. Doerr in 1923. Photo Credit: Ward Miller / Preservation Chicago

“South Shore economic leaders should build on recent momentum and work to bring back a ‘Main Street’ feel to struggling business corridors, urban planning experts said at a community meeting Wednesday.

“South Shore Works and the South Shore Chamber hosted a panel discussion to brainstorm how to spark business growth and activity along 71st, 75th and 79th streets in the neighborhood. Joining the panel were chamber Executive Director Tonya Trice, University of Chicago urbanism professor Emily Talen, UrbanMain Program Director Dionne Baux and Kenya Merritt of the Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection.

“South Shore’s commercial strips battle high vacancy rates, and existing businesses are struggling to navigate the pandemic. More than half of storefronts are empty along 75th and 79th streets, and there are vacancies along 71st Street. But zoning changes, educating business owners on online sales and public-private partnerships could facilitate a turnaround, panelists said.

“The neighborhood is primed for growth, Trice said, and 71st Street in particular has ‘a large number of older buildings that have architectural characteristics that we want to preserve in the community, but also attract new businesses.’

“Some plans for preservation and growth are already in place, including those surrounding the historic Avalon Regal Theater along 79th Street, an entertainment corridor along Stony Island Avenue and a quality of life improvement plan for the neighborhood with LISC Chicago.

“Forces have decimated the “classic American Main Street” in Chicago, Talen said. She defines ‘Main Street’ blocks as those offering services to nearby residents, providing opportunities for local entrepreneurship and being walkable and attractive to pedestrians.

“It’s not enough for us to have commercial corridors that are vibrant and thriving, and other parts of the city are desolate,’ Merritt said. ‘We want to be able to have that same quality of life across the city.'” (Evans, Block Club Chicago, 4/1/21)

Immediate steps should be taken to reverse the demolition permit and save the Jeffery Theater and Spencer Arms Hotel. A Preservation Chicago 7 Most Endangered in 2014, the historic Jeffery Theater and Spencer Arms Hotel is located at the crossroads of what was once the bustling heart of the South Shore business district located at the northwest corner of 71st Street and Jeffery Boulevard adjacent to the Jackson Park Highlands Landmark District of fine historic homes. Built in 1923 it was opened as a vaudeville venue and movie house.

The Jeffery Theater was originally constructed as a vaudeville house but also featured a single movie screen when it opened in 1923. The building also includes storefronts and apartments along 71st Street. It was located in the heart of the South Shore commercial center between Eucline Ave. and Jeffery Blvd. with the adjoining South Shore National Bank and later ShoreBank and successors abutting the east wall of the theater.

It was designed by architect William P. Doerr in a neoclassical style with a tall vertical neon sign that was visible down the length of 71st Street. It once boasted a fine marquee as well.

In the late 1990s, the building was purchased by ShoreBank. They remodeled the former theater interior into offices and added a drive through facility for the bank. However, the terra cotta ornamented façade remains largely intact as well as most of the historic lobby.

After a 90 Day Demolition Delay in 2020, a demolition permit was released for the Jeffery Theater. A developer plans to replace this historic building with a new theater and mixed use space, but the plans seem to have stalled during the pandemic.

If protected and restored, the Jeffery Theater Building could be the key to a revitalized 71st Street commercial and entertainment district.

Read the full story at Block Club Chicago

How Could South Shore Revive Its Shopping Districts? Zoning Changes, Education And A ‘Main Street’ Strategy, Urban Planners Say; Experts say South Shore’s economic leaders must build on plans for the historic Avalon Regal Theater, an entertainment district along Stony Island Avenue and other plans for preservation and growth, Maxwell Evans, Block Club Chicago, 4/1/21

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