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.
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.
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.
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.
51 thoughts on “Avalon (New Regal) Theatre”
Beautiful! I am such a fan of this blog. It is so important these places be documented. Thank God someone is doing it correctly!!!
Sensational! I’m so happy that I voted for this theatre and it won! Thanks
Any idea what is in store for its future?
The FDIC is currently trying to sell the theater, preferably to someone who will reopen it as a performance center.
It will not happen until the neighborhod is safe to go to. When you read/hear about killings in Chicago this is one of the areas that they are talking about.
I sure hope this place can find a future function. It’s absolutely stunning.
Thank you for the great pictures of such a beautiful theatre.
Absolutely stunning!! Thank you!!!
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.
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.
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.
It’s not as simplistic as taht. As the last owners found out, producers will not book their acts into a theatre in that neighborhood. It’s not safe.
Yes, awesome Blog and really beautiful theatre!
Who owns the theater now? I heard it was being re-opened …! Is that rue. It is such a great landmark
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.
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…
I remember seeing Jason & the Argonauts there (as well as other movies) in 1964. Many happy childhood memories. It is a spectacular place.
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.
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.
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If I’m not mistaken, there was a scale miniature made of this theatre in someone’s basement.
The scale model mentioned above is on display at the headquarters of the Theater Historical Society in the York Theater Building in Elmhurst, IL.
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!!!
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.
You’re quite welcome Richard. I love hearing stories from people who went to these theaters when they were originally open.
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.
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………
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.
It has been restored. It’s just that your old neighborhood is now one of the most dangerous in the city. Nobody will go there.
Ok Carlo we get it…your scared! Geesh
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.
Thank you for sharing. It still appears magical, as it did when I was little. Mercedes
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Reblogged this on My Blog and commented:
What u think about this beautiful theatre?
I attended many movies ninths theater in the 50s and some in the 40s. It’s sad to see what has happened to South Shore.
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Someone PLEASE save this beautiful theater. Too many have been demolished across the country. These theaters are museums of our past and once they are gone, they are gone forever and can never be duplicated.
I couldn’t agree more! But the same thing could be said about so many buildings in our city, aged-out indiscriminately by big business interests. But what can we do, at least about the Regal?
It was restored by the Johnson Family (Afro-Sheen, Ebony Magazine) and is still in very good condition. The problem is that it is in the far south side of Chicago, Avalon Neighborhood where nobody – NOBODY – will go after dark. “Saving” a theatre doesn’t mean that anyone will go to it. It doesn’t have a chance of reuse because of where it is located.
The Avalon is an icon! The steel mill had Christmas parties there. Imagine being a kid and entering the massive theater, where toys are stacked so high in that gorgeous lobby! You would pick out what you wanted and then saw a movie. Wee Folks Toy Store provided the toys purchased by the steel mill. Wee Folks owner had storage under 79th St, nearly up to the theater! Sometimes we ate at Miner Dunn before the movie. That was across the street, on the corner. In the really early days there was a soda shop next to the theater that had a juke box and shakes and floats. Those were the days. I remember in 1976 when Mr Wee Folks was shot to death in a robbery. That was the same year we moved our mother off of 80th and Coles. I hope by now Avalon has been cared for. I wish those roughnecks would move away to some island. The pictures are great! That’s what I remember! Thank you!
So sad, many memories of the Avalon!
I grew up at 84th and Bennett and 89th and Dante. We always got our toys at Wee Folks , didn’t know about the shooting. Last time we were in Chicago for my 50th high school reunion, the cop at our hotel told us not to venture into the old neighborhood. Yes saad commentary on todays values!
Except for Radio City Music Hall, where I have been twice (to see the silent film “Napoleon” back in 1980 and 1981), the only elegant old theater I had ever been in was the Chicago Avalon, back in 1979, when I was 19. I don’t remember the film I attended there…but I certainly do remember the experience of being in that theater, with stars twinkling overhead, and exotic silhouettes on the walls and concealed lights making things soft and bringing out the desert romance of the Persian motif…I feel privileged to have been there. I find it interesting that the place was so much more memorable than the movie…and what does that say about movies? I once thought I would never forget any that I had seen…well, age prunes out the unnecessary from the brain. Leaving only the magic hall and its soft lighting to lead me back to it. Perhaps if it had been a silent film (which I study and love), it would have stayed with me. I certainly remember “Napoleon”!
The Avalon was one of my favorite places. My sister and I walked over there every Sunday afternoon. The decorations always gave me the feeling there was a big world out there. As an adult I was able to travel around the world to see things for myself. Thanks for the inspiration Avalon.The movies were always top notch, as well.
I also grew up at the south edge of South Shore. The Chelten was our closest theater but many times we trekked down 79th St all the way to the beautiful Avalon. My dad was a steel worker and the mills had their Christmas parties there. I remember as a child, walking into that gorgeous lobby and seeing toys stacked so high, for us kids. It was a dream come true to pick out which toy you wanted! Mr Wee Folks from the toy store across the street provided the toys that the mill purchased. After the toy selection, we were treated to 25 cartoons. Most of the time our eyes were fixated on the lit up stars in the ceiling, the ornate tiles and statues, and the awe of this magnificent place. I remember going to the soda machine, putting in my quarter when I was a teen, and a Sweetheart brand paper cup would drop down and the soda filled automatically. I also remember going to The malt shop right next to the Avalon. Sometimes we would go to Miner-Dunn across the street for a burger, fries, Coke and a small paper cup of orange sherbet. Thanks for keeping our memories of the Avalon alive. It will forever be a big part of my growing up, as well as countless others. The city needs to fully realize this gem and clean up the neighborhood.
I grew up in Jeffery Manor(1949-1970)and have fond memories of the Avalon. I hope it finds it’s place in Chicago.
This was our favorite place for entertainment. I think the admission was 15 or maybe as much as 25 cents. Too expensive for us as kids. A whole bunch of us would put our pennies together so 1 of us could get in. There was a door near the stage on the 79th St. side. The one who paid and got in would go the side door and open it. We would all rush in. The open door lit up the darkened theatre and occasionally security might catch one of us and throw him out. No worries for him however, because you could go up to the balcony and open the emergency exit door which let to the metal staircase. We could let the person who had been expelled earlier in. FUN DAYS.
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