Regal, old and new

Last year I went down to Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood with my friend V to check out several murals by Mitchell Caton.  My favorite was  Bright Moments, Memories of the Future, a mural painted at 79th and Stony Island by Caton and Calvin Jones.

The mural is on the west wall of a Moorish Revival building that has a long and somewhat complicated story.  The building opened as the Avalon Theater in 1927 and served the neighborhood until the late 1970s when it closed and then became a church.  It reopened as the New Regal Theater in 1987, taking its name from the demolished Regal Theater that had stood at 47th and King Drive in Bronzeville.

The old Regal Theater was the center of entertainment in African American Chicago from the 1920s until it was razed in 1973.  Louis Armstrong, Lena Horne, and Duke Ellington performed regularly at the Regal, and Chicagoan Nat King Cole got his start there.

Caton and Jones painted the mural the year that the New Regal Theater opened, and it’s a who’s who of the legendary artists who performed at the old Regal in its heyday.  V proved herself that day as a mural hunting assistant extraordinaire as well as an expert on all things arts.  She picked out Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie, Moms Mabley and Nat King Cole…

…Stevie Wonder and Josephine Baker among many others.  I love how the artists leap off the mural, vibrant and energetic and literally larger than life.

And I love these little couples cutting a rug at the bottom of the mural.

The New Regal was designated a Chicago Landmark in 1992 but closed again in 2003.  There’s talk of re-opening the theater as a culture venue, but for now it’s vacant.

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