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Avalon (New Regal) Theatre

August 23, 2012

View of the auditorium from the balcony.

The Avalon Theatre opened on August 29, 1927 in Chicago, IL. The 2,250 seat theater was designed by noted theater architect John Eberson, who is also known for the Loew’s 46th Street Theatre in Brooklyn, NY. The design of the interior was inspired by a Persian incense burner Eberson found while shopping in the French Quarter of New Orleans.

The lobby ceiling design was inspired by a Persian rug and was called, “the largest flying carpet in the world.”

An atmospheric theater, the auditorium ceiling was a replica of the night sky complete with small lights as stars. The south wall of the auditorium was modeled after a garden with arches at the base, a reflecting pool and stuffed flamingos. The other side was designed to resemble a Persian palace with a dome and minarets.

The opening acts were a musical presentation called Dreams of Araby performed by Buddy Fisher, and Soft Cushions, a silent film starring Douglas MacLean. A fountain in the auditorium originally operated during performances, but it was discontinued when it seemed to cause people to use the bathroom more frequently. The Avalon discontinued live performances in the 1930s and switched to showing only motion pictures until 1970 when the theater was sold.

View of the auditorium from the stage.

The theater was used as a meeting hall and later as a church until it was purchased by Edward and Bettiann Gardner in 1985. The Gardners renovated the Avalon and renamed it the New Regal Theatre after the original Regal Theatre which was demolished after a fire in 1973. It reopened as a performing arts center in 1987. The Regal Theatre was named a Chicago landmark in June 1992. 16 years after it reopened, the theater closed again due to low attendance.

The ticket booth of the Avalon/New Regal Theatre.

In 2008, the New Regal was purchased by the Prime Time Group, Inc. The Prime Time Group made some upgrades to the building and began to hold events at the theater. One such event was a presidential election night celebration on November 4, 2008. Not all the required repairs were begun in time, and PTG was fined by the city. PTG declared bankruptcy, and the theater was purchased by the FDIC in a foreclosure sale.

Three carved and painted wood murals set in arches depicting people and animals in Persian royal gardens.

A close up of one of the wood murals in the lobby.

View of the side of the auditorium from the balcony.

The script above the exit reads “Be seated I beg you.”

A fountain in the theater’s lobby.

The stairway to the downstairs bathrooms is flanked by two fountains.

Another view of the auditorium from the balcony.

A close up of the lobby ceiling.

Another view of the lobby.

The proscenium arch was built to resemble a fortified wall and was topped with a cloth canopy suspended on spears.

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34 Comments leave one →
  1. Chad E. Williams permalink
    August 23, 2012 11:51 am

    Beautiful! I am such a fan of this blog. It is so important these places be documented. Thank God someone is doing it correctly!!!

  2. Mark Bender permalink
    August 23, 2012 12:02 pm

    Sensational! I’m so happy that I voted for this theatre and it won! Thanks

  3. AnnaLE permalink
    August 23, 2012 3:33 pm

    Any idea what is in store for its future?

    • August 23, 2012 3:42 pm

      The FDIC is currently trying to sell the theater, preferably to someone who will reopen it as a performance center.

  4. Rachel permalink
    August 23, 2012 8:44 pm

    I sure hope this place can find a future function. It’s absolutely stunning.

  5. Jimmy permalink
    September 2, 2012 6:37 am

    Thank you for the great pictures of such a beautiful theatre.

  6. tielz permalink
    September 4, 2012 11:13 am

    Absolutely stunning!! Thank you!!!

  7. Charles permalink
    September 4, 2012 1:45 pm

    I grew up on 76th and East End, three blocks away, and lived there until 1970; the Avalon was like my second home. In my recurring dreams, the interior has either been changed significantly or has become quite shabby. (The last few times I’ve driven by the exterior has looked a little shopworn.)

    However, I am amazed and heartened at the condition of the interior – it looks better than ever. Thank you for the photos. May it rise again.

  8. October 10, 2012 10:23 am

    This theater is so beautiful it’s very sad that it doesn’t have a purpose. They could hold so many performances here. Bring in specialized performers – illusionists, dancers, singers. Look for unique talent and showcase it.

    • Elizabeth Gardenes permalink
      June 13, 2013 2:38 am

      great dreams. unrealistic in terms of making money. if theaters could make money doing this, none of them would’ve gone out of business. we all miss them, but it’s not economically feasible. so many have tried…and failed. not sure what the answer is.

  9. December 29, 2012 7:44 pm

    Yes, awesome Blog and really beautiful theatre!

  10. Goel Ysrael permalink
    March 18, 2013 7:42 pm

    Who owns the theater now? I heard it was being re-opened …! Is that rue. It is such a great landmark

    • March 18, 2013 7:58 pm

      I heard the same, but the theater was recently put up for auction by the FDIC so I’m not sure what’s going on now.

  11. Paul Humphrey permalink
    April 12, 2013 8:51 am

    I grew up in the house across the alley by the theatres rear emergency exits. Too many memories….. thank you for the photos. Maybe I should find a way to play “Tevye” from “Fiddler on The Roof ” there…. My fondest dream…

  12. May 20, 2013 12:21 pm

    I remember seeing Jason & the Argonauts there (as well as other movies) in 1964. Many happy childhood memories. It is a spectacular place.

  13. Bruce Hannover permalink
    May 20, 2013 8:16 pm

    The Avalon is truly one of John Eberson’s finest designs. The Paradise Theatre, in the Bronx (another Eberson) was recently restored as well. In Chicago, the Paradise, the Capitol and the Aragon Ballroom were all designed by Eberson.

  14. HHKirman permalink
    May 22, 2013 12:14 pm

    The beauty of this theater so far exceeds today’s version of what a theater should be that it isn’t even funny. Today’s junk with the multi-screens they offer, are built to make money. Period. This theater is unbelievably beautiful. It would be great if tours of its interior could be arranged.
    I feel blessed to have grown up in an age when such beauty at so many locales was readily available. Moviegoing then was an experience.

  15. Obie permalink
    June 3, 2013 8:52 pm

    If I’m not mistaken, there was a scale miniature made of this theatre in someone’s basement.

  16. DaveM permalink
    June 4, 2013 11:00 pm

    The scale model mentioned above is on display at the headquarters of the Theater Historical Society in the York Theater Building in Elmhurst, IL.

  17. Dorothy Rupp permalink
    June 5, 2013 10:52 pm

    Dorothy
    Grew up at 79th and Clyde graduated from South Shore High School, went to the Avalon every Saturday afternoon with friends. This was in the 1950’s, cost was about .25 – .50 and that included a cartoon, news, and two movies. The theater looks great to me after all these
    Years. I hope they can do something great with it!!!

  18. September 18, 2013 5:51 pm

    I to grew up in the South Shore area in the 50s. This was “the” theater to take your best girl. Even dressed up to go there .It didn’t seem quite so grand then,but it sure does today, We attend the Myerson in Dallas now,and enjoy the splendor. Thanks tons for the great pictures and the memories.

    • September 18, 2013 6:38 pm

      You’re quite welcome Richard. I love hearing stories from people who went to these theaters when they were originally open.

  19. Steve permalink
    October 20, 2013 1:22 pm

    Went there a lot as a kid. Considered this normal for a theater. Seeing it now is a shock. It is spectacular. And who would have imagined such a place near the grimy intersection of South Chicago Ave and 79th St.

  20. David Garretson permalink
    November 14, 2013 6:03 pm

    I too grew up in South Shore. The two “pillars” of my youth were Our Lady of Peace and the Avalon. When I was in the first grade I went to see an early show and the scenery doors were open. The stagehand on duty showed me the stage, the Hub board and the picture sheet. I mark that day as the inspiration of a career as an IATSE stagehand and officer. Later on I was the house electrician at the Fox Atlanta, another Morrish atmospheric house. And now………shoeboxes………

  21. Wendy Adams Lindemann permalink
    November 15, 2013 1:04 am

    I was born on the southeast side of Chicago in 1949. Some of the best memories of my childhood revolve around this beautiful theater. We used to sit in the balcony because my father smoked and that was the only place he could light up, or at least, that’s what I remember. What a view from up there! I was then, and still am, a movie buff. I credit this theater for developing my love of film. I have never since seen anything quite like it ever again. Here’s hoping that someday it will be restored to it’s original glory.

  22. Eileen Duignan-Woods permalink
    December 23, 2013 4:01 pm

    I spent a lot of time in the 50s (my formative years)looking forward to the day when I could LIVE in this place. I just loved it. I tried to make up for it by sprinkling around colored spot lights (from the floor) in my apartment. Almost makes it.

    thank you for this wonderful website.

    • Mercedes Henry Jamka permalink
      December 24, 2013 12:52 pm

      Thank you for sharing. It still appears magical, as it did when I was little. Mercedes

  23. October 10, 2014 3:54 pm

    Reblogged this on My Blog and commented:
    What u think about this beautiful theatre?

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