WIN: Harper Theater to Reopen After Preservation-Oriented Renovation

“Hyde Park’s 107-year-old Harper Theater is getting new owners and a revamp after the retirement of former proprietor Tony Fox. Emphasizing the theater’s ‘luxury’ renovations, new owners Main Street Theatres are shooting for an early spring opening.

“Fox told the Hyde Park Herald in November that after ten years of running the four-screen, prairie-style theater, the cinema ‘hadn’t turned a profit for the last couple of years,’ and he would be stepping down.

“The building, located at 5234 S. Harper Ave., is owned and leased out by the University of Chicago. The university finalized plans with its new vendor on November 10 of last year; the theater closed temporarily on November 30 to begin renovations.

“Based out of Omaha, Main Street Theatres operates cinemas across Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Iowa, primarily around college towns. The South Side location will be the company’s first in Illinois.

“Harper Theater’s iconic building was constructed in 1914, opening a year later as a 1,200-seat vaudeville house complete with a Kimball pipe organ. It was designed by renowned Chicago architect Horatio Wilson, whose craftsmanship can be seen throughout the city in the designs of houses, banks, apartment buildings, and factories. Harper was converted into a movie theater in 1935.

“Listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Hyde Park-Kenwood Historic District, the theater has seen its fair share of changes over the years: turnovers, periodic shutterings, renovations and reopenings.

“Michael Barstow, executive vice president for Main Street Theatres, said renovations should last about three months.

“One such character change is removing the theater’s current seats and replacing them with “luxury, heated recliners.’ Aside from the reduction of total seats in the theaters, the rest of the layout will remain unchanged. Its name and unique historical features, such as the marquee, will also remain intact.

“‘How cool is that when you’re looking from 53rd [Street] down Harper [Avenue]? How gorgeous that building is with that marquee when it’s all lit up at night,’ Barstow said. ‘Seriously…if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.'” (Robinson, South Side Weekly, 1/12/23)

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