The Jeffery Theatre and Spencer Arms Hotel, located at the corner of East 71st Street and South Jeffery Boulevard in the South Shore neighborhood, was completed in 1924 and designed by architect William P. Doerr. Built as an anchor of a vibrant commercial district, these two structures still evoke the glory of the a vibrant 71st Street commercial corridor, despite alterations made during decades of disinvestment. The Jeffery Theatre, in particular, has been subjected to considerable destruction since its closure in 1976 and subsequent demolition of its auditorium. The Jeffery Theatre’s ornate terra cotta façade and lobby survive along with the residential apartments of the Spencer Arms Hotel.
Today, both the Jeffery Theatre and Spencer Arms Hotel face a serious threat of demolition. Plans were formally announced in 2017 to demolish the theater’s remaining features along with the entirety of the Spencer Arms Hotel to create a new entertainment complex on the site. Without a viable preservation solution, it is likely that both buildings will be demolished if this current reuse plan moves forward.
Preservation Chicago strongly urges that the historic Jeffery Theatre façade and lobby and Spencer Arms Hotel be incorporated into this new, planned development. The historic buildings only cover approximately 25% of the development site and perhaps with the assistance of the City of Chicago, funds could be made available to encourage incorporation of these historic structures into the proposed development plans.
The history of South Shore is strongly tied to the commercial district around E. 71st St. and South Jeffery Boulevard. To protect its remaining historic and cultural assets, the 71st Street commercial corridor west of Jeffery should be considered as a Chicago Landmark District. This designation would bring additional resources to support more historic preservation options. The City of Chicago needs additional urban planning programs and tools beyond Chicago Landmark Designation are needed in the. Additional planning tools should encourage and incentivize developers to incorporate historic structures into new development programs.