A Regal History
The Avalon Regal Theater began its life as the Avalon in 1927. Designed by noted movie palace architect John Eberson, the 2,250-seat theater features flourishes like Persian domes, a brightly striped Arabian tent surrounding the stage, a flickering star-filled blue ceiling in the auditorium, and a lobby with murals made of mosaic tile.
Designed as a Moorish Revival movie palace, the Avalon offered a mix of elaborately staged live shows and movies to the German and Irish residents living in the South Shore and Avalon Park communities at the time it was built. “Theaters like the New Regal were the largest secular gathering places in their communities and a source of pride for the people who lived there,” says Rick Fosbrink, Executive Director of the Theatre Historical Society of America. “These places defined their neighborhoods.”
In its heyday, the Regal Theater wasn’t just a movie palace — it was America's largest theater focused on black entertainment. From the late 1920s through the 1960s, the Regal was an important stop for African-American artists on the touring circuit. Legendary performers like Count Basie, Lionel Hampton, Louis Armstrong, B.B. King, Nat King Cole, Ray Charles, The Supremes, Lena Horne, Cab Calloway, Isaac Hayes, Billie Holiday, and The Nicholas Brothers all played the Regal. Later in the century, a newer generation of exceptional black artists such as Michael Jackson, Redd Foxx, Gladys Knight, Curtis Mayfield, Richard Pryor, Quincy Jones, Tyler Perry, Notorious B.I.G., Tupac, Common, and Kanye West would grace the Regal Theater stage.
Despite a $20+ million restoration in the late 1980s by the Gardner family (founders of Soft Sheen Products), the theater suspended operations in the early 2000s due to declining conditions in the surrounding neighborhood.
The building was featured on Landmark Illinois’ 2011 list of the 10 most endangered buildings statewide and recently in the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s Open House Chicago program. It was designated a Chicago Landmark in 1992.