By Robert Stitt
When the Avalon Theater was built in 1927, Jerald Gary would not have been allowed to sit with the white patrons of the theater. He would not have used their bathrooms or drank from their water fountains. Yet, this larger than life piece of American heritage is now his.
Jerald Gary is a 30-year-old Black equity investor. His Chicago Regal Foundation just bought the Avalon Theater, currently known as the New Regal Theater on Chicago’s South Side. He picked it up for a mere $100,000.
If you’re thinking there must be a hitch, you are right. The neighborhood has changed through the years, and the theater no longer sits in a posh or safe location. Gary explains, “In Beale Street like in Memphis, [Tennessee]. They got like 20 or 30 music joints like on one strip, [along with] restaurants and bars….[But in this neighborhood] you can’t just have a venue, and people can’t go get dinner before the show, a cocktail after the show. What you gonna get? Are you going to get robbed after the show? That’s what’s going to happen here now.”
Not only does Gary have his work cut out for him in the neighborhood, but because it was declared a Chicago Landmark in 1992, there were hoops and hurdles to jump through. “It took us about nine months to negotiate because it’s a landmark. We had to get a blessing from a commissioner,” Gary said. The site is also in need of repair. It’s been sitting vacant since 2011 and wasn’t sold at auction to the FDIC until 2014. Gary estimates that there is about $7 million worth of work to be done on the theater, with over $3 million just on the facade.
Why put all of this money into a building that has been long forgotten? During the 1980’s, it was the home to the Miracle Temple Church. It was sold to a couple that wanted to revive it, but it lost too much money so they sold it. The next owners faced the same outcome. Why does Gary believe things can be different this time?
Because, this time, Gary wants the city to get behind it. Further, he wants to bring in star-power. “I want to see people from the community that have made it in the entertainment industry from Chicago come back to support the venue. I want to see all of them. Everybody knows who they are. I’m not going to sit here and name a whole list. I think it’s time for our people in particular in Chicago to stand up for ourselves. We have the brand power, we have the star power. Obviously, we have the culture that everybody else has appropriated. It’s time for us to appropriate our own culture and to create that district, and that content and control that content because if we’re not in control then who gets it?”
Plus, he wants to put in 3D hologram projectors.
The Avalon was where Tyler Perry got his start. It hosted Tupac and Biggie. In fact, the first time they were on the stage they introduced a new act, 17-year-old Kanye West. Hundreds of other legends from eclectic backgrounds have also graced the stage, including Louis Armstrong, Pearl Jam, Richard Pryor, Billie Holiday, Isaac Hayes, Count Basie, Lena Horne, Lou Rawls, Whitney Houston, James Brown, Nat King Cole, The Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, etc., etc., etc.
Let’s hope Gary gets his dream.