Jay Z and Beyoncé are not investing in a landmark Chicago theater. That’s the bad news.
Rumors snowballed across the internet on Wednesday that the golden couple had purchased the New Regal Theater in the heart of the city’s Black community “for a mere $250,000”, according to entertainment news site Gumbumper. “The plan is to bring entertainment back to the 2,500 seat venue.”
“We’ve been trying to confirm that story all day,” a representative of the South Shore Chamber—the federation of business owners and non-profit organizations around the city’s historic South Shore community—told EBONY.com on Wednesday afternoon. “As far as we can tell it is not true.”
Authorities “confirmed the building is under contract,” Chicago’s NBC 5 reported later Wednesday. “A source familiar with the deal who wished to remain anonymous because of the pending sale, however, said the Beyoncé and Jay Z rumor is inaccurate.”
And that’s the good news: That the iconic theater is “under contract” and a sale is apparently is “pending.”
“The New Regal is a landmark property and has hosted so many concerts and plays,” Chicago-based event promoter and publicist Waddie Grant told EBONY.com. “The theater would make a good investment for Jay Z, Beyoncé or anyone. I’m surprised the sale hasn’t happened sooner.”
The New Regal Theater is located at 1641 East 79th Street in Chicago’s Avalon Park community. It’s only steps away from one of the busiest intersections on the South Side—79th Street, Stony Island Avenue, South Chicago and the entrance and exit ramps of the Chicago Skyway (I-90) overhead. The theater will turn 86-years-old next week and originally opened as the “Avalon Theater” on August 29, 1927.
The New Regal Theater has been certified as a “Chicago Landmark” and is famous for being one of the nation’s foremost examples of “Moorish Revival” movie palaces. The theater “was designed in Middle Eastern style by John Eberson for the Cooney Brothers circuit. It became part of the Warner Brothers circuit during the 1930’s and 1940’s,” notes Cinema Treasures, a virtual archive of historic movie theaters. “Its fantastic decor included an Atmospheric style auditorium with a star-filled deep blue sky and a Persian bazaar on the side walls. Hanging from the soaring lobby ceiling is what was once described as the ‘largest oriental rug ever made,’ a flying carpet if you will.”
The Avalon Theater remained in business until the late 1970s. Then it served as the home of the Miracle Temple Church until 1987—when it once again became a performing arts venue. Ed and Betty Gardner—who founded Soft Sheen Cosmetics which “grossed nearly $100 million annually at its height”—bought the iconic theater and renamed it “The New Regal Theater.” The old Regal Theater was once located in the heart of the city’s historic Bronzeville community at 47th and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and was demolished in 1973.
“The theater hosted numerous productions targeting the Black community and many compared the Regal with the Apollo Theatre in New York City,” reported The Final Call. The iconic South Side stage was graced by the biggest names in jazz, blues, R&B and pop from the 1930s to the 2000s—including Josephine Baker, Nat “King” Cole, Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne, Isaac Hayes, The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Minnie Ripperton and many others.
The New Regal finally received “Chicago Landmark” status in 1992—“which prohibits it from being demolished or its exterior altered extensively unless for safety reasons.”
The theater has fallen on hard times since then. The Gardners lost money and closed the New Regal in 2003.
The building was bought by Ronald and Regina Evans, who were indicted in a federal money laundering charge in 2012. Both were former members of the Chicago Police Department, with Regina Evans once leading the police department in south suburban Country Club Hills, home to a large, affluent Black community. Prosecutors say Evans created a nonprofit organization and diverted grant money intended to renovate the New Regal “into her personal bank account,” reported the Chicago Sun Times.
The neighborhood had seen shootings and street crime increase. "It is a beautiful building with a unique design going to waste. When it was open we had more police presence and less shootings," said Samuel Bankston, who owns a two-story apartment building on the block.
“I’m looking forward to see what will happen next to the New Regal,” event promoter Waddie Grant told EBONY.com. “Look at what happened to Bronzeville and the South Loop in the past ten years. I’m surprised that someone like Kanye West, R. Kelly, Chaka Khan or even Jennifer Hudson hasn’t invested in the Regal. They are all Chicagoans with a history in the area.”