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Hyde Park, Woodlawn, South Shore

City Lifts Hold On Tearing Down Jeffery Theater, But Developer Doesn’t Plan To Demolish Immediately

City law delays permits to tear down historically significant structures, but the hold on Jeffery Theater expired in late May.

Inner City Entertainment plans to build a complex at 71st Street and Jeffery Boulevard in South Shore. This rendering, provided to Block Club in August 2019, is subject to change as the developer finalizes the project's design.
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SOUTH SHORE — The city’s injunction on demolishing the 97-year-old Jeffery Theater and surrounding properties has expired, clearing the way for a developer who plans to bring an entertainment complex to the site.

Developer Inner City Entertainment wants to build a 50,000 square-foot complex with a dine-in movie theater, a bowling alley and event space to the northwest corner of 71st Street and Jeffery Boulevard.

To do so, the structures from 1938–1962 E. 71st St. would be demolished. These includes the Jeffery Theater, built by William Doerr in 1923, and the former Urban Partnership Bank.

The owner says demolition likely won’t occur until later this year.

Credit: Maxwell Evans/ Block Club Chicago
A view of 1938–1962 E. 71st St. 

City ordinance delays demolition permits for the city’s most architecturally significant buildings for up to 90 days, so the zoning department can “explore options” for preservation. The hold on the 71st Street property expired May 21.

A buildings department spokeswoman said the city has not issued any permits for demolition.

Inner City Entertainment is hoping for City Council’s approval of a Neighborhood Opportunity Fund grant before starting demolition, owner Alisa Starks said.

“We’ve started to put ourselves in line for a demolition permit,” Starks said. “We’re in the early stages.”

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) said Monday she “can’t wait” for the project’s groundbreaking, as it is “so needed” in South Shore.

“Now, after the unrest and the looting, people are hurting,” Hairston said. “It’s great to see positive things in your neighborhood that are being put together by someone who actually lives in the neighborhood.”

Hairston said there’s been “lots of community support and participation,” though a March 2014 ward meeting on “future development of the former Urban Partnership Bank building” was the only Hairston-backed meeting a spokesperson could track down.

The project was formally announced in September 2017, but word of Starks’ concept first leaked in 2015.

Redevelopment plans are “consistent with the feedback” from studies and surveys commissioned by the South Shore Chamber, South Shore Works and the Jackson Park Highlands Association, Starks said.

Credit: Provided
An undated photo of the Jeffery Theater, built in 1923.

Terracotta ornaments at the top of the Jeffery Theater entrance are the only pieces of interest for preserving, as it would be “cost-prohibitive” to preserve other aspects of the structure, Starks said.

The ornaments could be used for interior decoration at the new building, she said.

A mural finished this week on the former Urban Partnership Bank by South Shore artist Dorian Sylvain will not be kept. Starks said artists who have used the property for their installations “know that the building will ultimately be demolished.”

“Dorian’s work on the building is part of an effort to uplift the community … during these challenging times of COVID-19,” Starks said. “It’s a very important corner to the neighborhood.”

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