Black Chicago and the Regal Theater

Photo of Regal Theater: "Movie theater, Southside, Chicago, Illinois"
(1941, Library of Congress)

It is hard for many young people to imagine the kind of vibrant and bustling community life that surrounded the former site of the Regal Theater. The Savoy Ballroom complex, which would included the Regal Theater, opened on Thanksgiving night in 1927 at 4719 S. South Parkway (later known as 4719 S. Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive). The Regal Theater opened on February 24, 1928, giving birth to a new Black Chicago nightlife.

Photo: The Regal Theater: "In front of the movie theater, Chicago, Illinois"
(1941, Library of Congress)

Photo: An Exterior View of Chicago's Regal Theater
(ca. 1941, Library of Congress)

Built by the National Theater Corporation, the Regal Theater was one of the first theater halls that was built specifically for the African American community's entertainment. From 1928-1971, the Regal Theater offered patrons live performances and films.

Regal Theater acts included Louis Armstrong, County Baise, Cab Calloway, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Lena Horne, the Ink Spots, Moms Mabley, the Mills Brothers, and Bessie Smith. The great historical acts of the theater is commemorated by the community with a mural at the northeast corner of the intersection of 47th Street and Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive.

 
Photo: "Crowd coming out of Regal movie theater, Southside of Chicago, Illinois"
(1941, Library of Congress)

Built in 1926-27, the Regal Theater architect was John Eberson. Its architecture was the talk of the town. Its Spanish Baroque-revival facade and interior was based on the Moorish designs of North Africa and Spain. The auditorium ceiling was designed to affect the underside of an Arabian tent. The sky and distant castles were painted into the interior facade.

The theater featured act was typically a 22-piece jazz band, the "Regalettes" chorus line, and a Barton House organist. Chicago's Bronzeville community is fond of noting that the history of its community theater predated New York's Apollo Theater and held twice its capacity.

"Art exhibit in the lobby of the Regal Theater, Chicago, Illinois"
(Library of Congress, 1941)

THE NEW REGAL THEATER

In 1973, the Regal Theater, located at 4719 S. King Dr. Street, was demolished. the New Regal Theater, originally named the Avalon, was opened by a group of community investors in 1985. The project was spearheaded by Edward and Bettiann Gardner, founders of the Soft Sheen Products Company in Chicago.

The New Regal Theater Building

New Regal Theater Interior

The New Regal Theater sought to recall the Moorish architectural legacy of the Regal Theater in its close to $10 million dollar renovation. The restored theater was designed with a grand "Persian courtyard" to showcase theater and musical concerts. This South Side entertainment center is located in the South Shore community of Chicago at 1641 E. 79th Street.

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