Sun-Times Editorial: Writing a new chapter for Avalon Regal and Congress theaters

The Avalon Regal Theater, 1927, John Eberson, 1641 East 79th Street. Photo Credit: Eric Allix Rogers
The Avalon Regal Theater, 1927, John Eberson, 1641 East 79th Street. Photo Credit: Eric Allix Rogers
The Avalon Regal Theater, 1927, John Eberson, 1641 East 79th Street. Photo Credit: Eric Allix Rogers

“We applaud the city’s proposal to kick in $20 million to help fund a major restoration of Logan Square’s Congress Theater.

“But we’re also watching with interest what could be a compelling follow-up act: an effort to bring new life to the South Side’s grand, but long-dormant, Avalon Regal Theater.

“The Cook County Land Bank Authority purchased the back taxes on the 95-year-old Moorish Revival theater, 1645 E. 79th St., within the last two weeks, the Sun-Times Editorial Board has learned. The agency would own the property for the next three years while Chicago officials put together a redevelopment plan for the 2,250-seat theater.

“If successful, the redevelopment of the Congress and Avalon Regal theaters would represent a remarkable sea change in Chicago’s attitude toward its classic former movie theaters. The city built some of the nation’s finest movie theaters between 1910 and 1930 — then callously wrecked almost all of them when the venues began falling into disuse in the closing decades of the 20th Century.

“The Avalon Regal Theater, built in 1927, was designed by architect John Eberson, who gave the building Middle Eastern architectural details — inside and out — inspired by an intricate metal Persian incense burner he found in a Royal Street antique store in New Orleans’s French Quarter. The theater hosted movies and live shows before closing and being converted into a church in the 1970s.

“The theater went though a series of owners after the Gardners, the last being entrepreneur Jerald Gary, who rebranded the venue as the Avalon Regal and admirably kept the unused building in the public eye for a decade.

“Gary fought to reopen the theater while struggling with the crumbling venue’s near-monumental maintenance — but falling behind on its real estate taxes, which allowed the Cook County Land Bank Authority to seek ownership. Gary can still pay the back taxes within six months and win back ownership of the building, however. And let’s not kid ourselves: Putting the Avalon Regal back into use will be an expensive proposition.

“‘The [Avalon Regal] theater is a strategic part of a broad, community-based vision to revitalize the 79th Street commercial corridor through Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s INVEST South/West initiative,’ city Department of Planning Commissioner Maurice Cox said.

“When downtown theaters such as the United Artist’s, the McVickers, the Clark and others began falling in the 1970s and 1980s, the equally-doomed Chicago Theater was spared — with city help — and is a jewel of the Loop.

“The city’s few remaining neighborhood theater buildings such as the Avalon Regal, the Congress, the Ramova — not to mention North Lawndale’s Central Park, which was listed Wednesday on Preservation Chicago’s annual most-endangered buildings list — deserve the same positive ending.” (Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board, 3/9/22)

Read the full story at Chicago Sun-Times

Writing a new chapter for Avalon Regal and Congress theaters; Redevelopment plans for the Congress and Avalon Regal theaters represent a big change in Chicago’s attitude toward its classic old theaters, Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board, 3/9/22

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