A Preservation Chicago 7 Most Endangered in 2014, the historic Jeffery Theater 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.
In 2010, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation closed Shore Bank as a failed institution. Its assets and deposits were assumed by a newly chartered institution. In 2014, news broke that the property, which has been on the market, was under contract for sale and development as a McDonald’s. This development fell through, and it has remained vacant for a number of years.
In 2015, an aspiring developer Alisa Starks, owner of Inner City Entertainment, purchased the building with plans to demolish the historic theater and replace it with a new theater. The plan was first announced in September 2017. There is considerable skepticism in the community about the likelihood of this development being completed. The developer has the support of 5th Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston.
The loss of the historic façade of the Jeffery Theater together with its storefronts and apartment building would undermine the commercial ‘small town’ feel of 71st Street and may negatively impact the Jackson Park Highlands Chicago Landmark District directly to the north.
While the loss of the theater’s auditorium space means that much of the original building has been lost, its façade and lobby still retain much original historic fabric and ornamentation and remain important features and community landmarks in the once-bustling commercial district. If the new development were to proceed, the historic theater facade and lobby would be an asset to the new development and should not be demolished.
City Lifts Hold On Tearing Down Jeffery Theater, But Developer Doesn’t Plan To Demolish Immediately. City law delays permits to tear down historically significant structures, but the hold on Jeffery Theater expired in late May, Maxwell Evans, Block Club Chicago 6/9/2
South Shore Entertainment Complex Project Is ‘Shovel-Ready,’ Developer Says, But Funding Has Been A Setback; Plans for a dine-in cinema, bowling alley and event space were stalled by the government shutdown last winter, but developer Alisa Starks still hopes the center can open by November 2020. Maxwell Evans, Block Club Chicago, 8/15/19