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Statewide Endangered

2011 Ten Most Endangered Historic Places 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Regal Theater

1641-59 E. 79th St., Chicago
(Cook County)

 

Originally built as the Avalon in 1927, this is a prime example of the “atmospheric” motion picture palace. It was designed in a Middle Eastern/Moorish-style by noted movie palace architect John Eberson. The 2,300-seat theater has changed hands several times over the years and has functioned as a church, a cultural venue, and a live performance space. In 2010, the New Regal was cited for dangerous exterior wall conditions by the City of Chicago and a court case was started to monitor its condition. The building has since gone into foreclosure and is expected to be sold through a judicial sale this summer. In the meantime, needed repairs have not been undertaken.
     
With its large onion-domed roof seen by thousands of drivers on the Chicago Skyway everyday, the New Regal, with the Uptown Theater on the North Side and the Chicago Theater downtown, is considered one of the city’s largest and most extravagant movie palaces. Its Middle Eastern, Moorish design was reportedly inspired by a Persian incense burner that the architect found in an antique market. John Eberson became nationally famous as a designer of atmospheric motion picture palaces, in which the audience sits within an imaginary courtyard, surrounded by exotic buildings under a star-filled sky. Under its original name the Avalon, it continued to function as a movie theater from the 1940s until the late 1970s, when it was purchased by a church.     
 
In 1987, it was sold to a non-profit foundation, with partial funding from a $1 million Illinois Development Action Grant. Following a major interior renovation, the theatre was renamed in honor of the Regal Theater, a long-time center for the performing arts in the city's African-American community that had been demolished in 1973. The “New Regal” was designated a Chicago Landmark on June 17, 1992. In 1998, a $550,000 emergency repair grant was given by the City for repairs to the dome and stabilization of its minarets. 
 
The renovated theater was mainly a live performance venue, and continued to be operated by the New Regal Foundation until 2003. In 2008, the Prime Time Group Inc. (PTG) purchased the theater from the foundation, performed upgrades to the interior and held events there until 2010. However, required repairs were not addressed and, in 2010, the New Regal was cited for dangerous wall conditions by the City.  A receiver appointed by the City’s building court estimated temporary exterior repairs to cost $45,000. PTG has since declared bankruptcy and the FDIC has begun foreclosure proceedings. The property could be sold by the FDIC through judicial sale, perhaps as early as June or July 2011. 
 
Despite the necessary exterior wall repair work, the New Regal theater space is in good condition and largely operational.  Vacant assembly spaces, when unused and not routinely maintained, can quickly deteriorate due to unheated air in the building and possible damage due to broken plumbing or unmaintained equipment, as well as the threat of scavengers.  There is a small window of opportunity to prevent this theater from that fate and becoming a ‘white elephant’ that would be economically difficult to salvage. A capable new owner is needed immediately. 
 

What You Can Do

 

Interested theater or performing arts operators can call Landmarks Illinois for more information.
 

Additional Links

 

cinematreasures.org

collection.movingimage.us

wbez.org/blog

City of Chicago Preliminary Designation Report

 
       

 

 

 

 

 

Landmarks Illinois
Suite 1315
53 W. Jackson Blvd.
Chicago, IL 60604 
tel. 312-922-1742 
fax 312-922-8112

 

 

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