Central Park Theater Restoration Campaign

Central Park Theater Restoration Campaign


Central Park Theater Restoration Committee

Preservation Chicago is a member of the Central Park Theater Restoration Committee, a coalition of interdisciplinary partners to restore the Central Park Theater and create a vibrant cultural and community hub for North Lawndale residents and Chicago at large.

The Central Park Theater has been the centerpiece of the arts and culture of North Lawndale since it opened its doors in 1917. One of the most historically significant movie palaces in the United States, the theater is one of the first of its kind and became a model for buildings of its type which followed.

The Central Park Theater was the first picture palace of the prolific partnership between cinema developers Balaban & Katz and the architectural firm Rapp & Rapp, a collaboration which gave rise to numerous landmarks including the Chicago, Oriental (now Nederlander), Riviera, and Uptown theaters. In addition to its architectural splendor, the theater was the first in the nation to be air-conditioned. With nearly 1,800 seats, the Central Park remained a profitable theater for decades.

In 1971, it became home to the House of Prayer Church of God in Christ. Under the leadership of Pastor Lincoln Scott and his successor, Pastor Robert Marshall, the Theater served as a place of worship and community concerts hosting notable acts like Shirley Caesar, Mighty Clouds of Joy, and other Gospel and secular greats.

Today, despite its listing on the National Register of Historic Places, the Central Park’s future is uncertain.

The Restoration Committee is comprised of representatives from:

  • House of Prayer Church of God in Christ
  • North Lawndale Historical and Cultural Society
  • Jewish United Fund
  • Future Firm
  • School of the Art Institute of Chicago
  • Preservation Chicago

The Restoration Committee is recruiting local contractors to help with emergency stabilization needs at the theater as fundraising and partnerships are advanced for the full restoration. The Restoration Committee is committed to an end use of the theater that best benefits the North Lawndale community residents. With its location as a featured spot on the planned Altenheim trail through the neighborhood, the Central Park Theater is ready to be restored to its full glory. For more information on the Committee’s work, check out centralparktheater.org.

The Restoration Committee met in person for the first time at the September 2021 Chicago Architectural Biennial.
Committee members Mary Lu Seidel, Blanche Killingsworth , and Ann Lui meet up with the painter installing muralist Manuel Hertz’ piece as part of the Chicago Architectural Biennial in September 2021
The first two years of the Committee’s work was done entirely on Zoom