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Harper Theater Buildings

Harper Avenue and 53rd Street, Chicago
H.R. Wilson and Co., architect, 1913


Significance: The Harper Theater buildings are included in the Hyde Park-Kenwood Historic District, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The buildings also were identified as having “community significance” (OR-rated) in the Chicago Historic Resources Survey.


The theater was built as a 1,200-seat vaudeville house and was converted to a movie theater in 1935. Its entrance was changed from 53rd Street to Harper Avenue in the 1930s, prompting the addition of the blue tile entry. The storefronts and offices of the commercial building are mostly original, but the theater underwent a renovation in the 1960s that altered the interior. The theater and two-story commercial facades are of a distinctive red brick with white terra cotta trim.

Current Condition and/or Status: The commercial and theater buildings have been owned by the University of Chicago (U of C) since 2002. In 2006, U of C contracted with Baum Realty and Brinshore Development to redevelop the site. Instead of demolishing the buildings, Baum and Brinshore created a preservation plan that would have adaptively reused the Harper Theater buildings as a mixed-use retail/restaurant/office complex taking advantage of historic tax credits. However, the U of C terminated the project. The commercial and theater buildings now stand vacant.

Potential Threat: U of C owns the adjoining properties, which could result in a large-scale demolition to create a single redevelopment site, which is located in the 53rd Street Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District.

What You Can Do: Contact 4th Ward Alderman Toni Preckwinkle and urge her to work with U of C officials to redevelop the block reusing these distinctive historic buildings.

  • Alderman Toni Preckwinkle, Office of the 4th Ward, 4659 S. Cottage Grove
    Avenue, Suite 203, Chicago, IL 60653 (773-536-8103) (773-536-7296 fax) tpreckwinkle@cityofchicago.org

Other Contacts:

Photos: 1-3 Landmarks Illinois, 4,5 Courtesy Hyde Park Historical Society







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



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