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Englewood, Chatham, Auburn Gresham

Kanye West’s Push To Reopen Regal Theater Is Welcome, Alderman Says, But Lots Of Work Remains

Ald. Michelle Harris (8th Ward) welcomes any financial support that will lead to the historic theater's reopening – but says it needs much more than $150,000.

The Avalon Regal Theater's rehab is getting a boost from Kanye West.
Lee Edwards/Block Club Chicago
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CHATHAM —  Kanye West’s efforts to help with the long-planned rehab of Chatham’s Avalon Regal Theater has the support of Ald. Michelle Harris (8th), but she tempered expectations because of the amount of work that needs to get done there.

“I support [Kanye West] and I support anyone else that wants to give money to the Regal to make sure that building is brought up to code,” the neighborhood’s longtime alderman said. “Anybody that wants to bring the Regal up to code, I fully support it. I’m really happy that Mr. West is going to invest in a historic landmark. I couldn’t be happier about it.”

Avalon Regal owner Jerald Gary said in Building Court this week that the superstar rapper would lend financial support toward the reopening of the famed movie palace, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Gary’s longtime plans to reopen the theater at 1654 E. 79th St. made headlines again in recent weeks when West proclaimed in a tweet he was working to rehab it and reopen it for a comedy show.

Gary, who confirmed he is working with West, said this week he did not have the $150,000 necessary to bring the building up to code but with West’s support it could be done, according to the Sun-Times.

Gary launched a GoFundMe page on Aug. 16 to help raise the funds. Thus far, that effort has raised just $665.

Gary did not return calls Thursday. West was not available for comment.

Ald. Harris said in her last visit to the Avalon Regal — more than a year ago — much work needed to be done before the building could reopen, including roof repairs.

She said while she had not yet been fully briefed on the details of Gary’s latest court hearing, she said it’s her understanding he is complying with the court’s order. But she estimated time is not on Gary’s side in terms of meeting the goals the court set before him.

Gary hopes to be allowed to host guests at the theater for the Open House Chicago architecture tour Oct. 13 and 14. His next Building Court hearing is Oct. 10, the Sun-Times reported.

“The things the city is asking him to do he would’ve had to have started on yesterday to get them done in two weeks for the court date,” she said. “He needs to get started on it right now so he can show substantial compliance by the court date. He could very well get somebody in and get things done in a short period.”

Still, the Avalon Regal will need substantially more than $150,000 to be restored to its full glory, Harris said.

“There’s millions of dollars worth of work that needs to be done,” she said. “He still has a different set of issues to overcome to go into full use.”

Gary has told Block Club Chicago he wants to reopen the theater to help spark a transformation of the the area surrounding it. He envisions a booming entertainment area, with his theater serving as a community beacon.

“I think the Avalon Regal Theater is important not just from an economic perspective but also from the perspective of giving the youth an outlet to celebrate our culture and our heritage in a positive and constructive way,” Gary said. “I think the reason we have so much violence in the community is because there is a general lack of opportunities whether they be jobs or arts programs.”

The city granted the Regal landmark status on June 17, 1992, which prohibits it from being demolished or its exterior altered extensively unless for safety reasons.

The Moorish-style building on 79th first opened in 1927 as the Avalon Theater, designed by movie palace architect John Eberson.

The original Regal Theater in Bronzeville showcased several prominent black entertainers, including Lou Rawls, Nat King Cole, Etta James, Miles Davis, Curtis Mayfield and Cab Calloway. That building was torn down and the Avalon was renamed the New Regal in the 1980s.

Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago, an organization dedicated to preserving and revitalizing unique Chicago architecture, urban spaces and neighborhoods, said through several meetings with Gary he believes he has good intentions with the Avalon Regal.

He said while the exterior of the building may need repairs the interior has been “magnificently” restored and maintained over the decades.

“We’re hoping that Jerald has a good solid plan with his new partners and we wish him all the best,” Miller said. “It would really be remarkable if this theater could be returned to an entertainment menu in use that would really benefit the whole community.”