Avalon Theater – Chicago

posted by weefolkstoys on January 4, 2005 at 5:24 am

Remembering the glorious Avalon Theater (New Regal) on Chicago’s south side in the 1950s and ‘60s from my childhood, I included a lot about it in my new true family, true crime book, The Pied Piper of South Shore, Toys and Tragedy in Chicago. The story is set around my parent’s toy store, Wee Folks, across the street from the Avalon.

My parent’s held many toy giveaway promotions on the stage of that theater. I thought you would all enjoy an excerpt from the book about the Avalon. For more information on the book with an artistic rendering of the Avalon on the cover contact me at or visit www.chicagospiedpiper.com to see it LIVE.

The Avalon’s interior displayed an immense oriental rug, said to be the world;s largest, hanging from the lobby’s twenty-foot ceiling. We kids were convinced it was a flying carpet. The lobby also boasted a gigantic Wurlitzer organ. Five murals made of tiny inlaid mosaic tiles adorned the walls along with a series of floor-to-ceiling mirrors. The entire place was encrusted with imitations of semiprecious jewels.

A working fountain and a grand piano graced the balcony. A winding marble staircase enhanced the splendor of the theater’s rich yellows and blues. The ceiling’s small electric lights twinkled like stars. It created an atmosphere of an imaginary courtyard surrounded by exotic buildings under a starry sky. In the 2,400-seat auditorium four fierce gargoyles guarded the stage. It all looked like pages from the stories of the Arabian Nights.

Wee Folks held seven or eight promotions a year at the Avalon in the fifties. Dad would set up an elaborate display of toys in the lobby so kids could see what they might win in next week’s drawing. In addition, the theater would play a brief trailer about our store. On the big day, a kid could see twenty-five cartoons for twenty-five cents and perhaps win the toy of his dreams right from the stage. Dad and I coordinated many of the events.

I had my first onstage moment at the age of eleven, when I awarded prizes to the kids with winning tickets. Later, promotions expanded to include the Rhodes Theater, farther west on 79th Street.

I particularly remember the annual Christmas promotions that started in the 1950s and continued for years. Dad put a glass and wood display case in the Avalon lobby and filled it with the hottest, most tempting toys of the season. Enormous signs told moviegoers four weeks in advance that a big toy giveaway would take place on stage the Saturday before Thanksgiving.

The theater showed one regular kids' feature and twenty-five cartoons, and then Dad and I took the stage. We drew winning ticket stubs for bikes, cap guns and holsters, and all things Mickey Mouse. Only a handful of kids won each time, but those who did remember the thrill to this day. The drawings pulled in so many kids that theaters started approaching Wee Folks with dates and ideas for cross-promotions.

Have a terrific new year – all!
Caryn Lazar Amster

Theaters in this post

Comments (34)

irishmom07
irishmom07 on January 15, 2005 at 12:06 pm

I was at the New Regal Theater between 5 and ten years ago. It was for a field trip. They had children’s plays. It was great. It was one of the best organized I had ever seen. Everyone stayed in the theater, and then when your school bus was next to pull up in front, they called your school. It was great and wonderful for the kids to see some live theater.

oldeastsider
oldeastsider on May 3, 2005 at 9:48 am

I last saw the Avalon Theater in the autumn of 1965. I had been just released from active duty in the Pacific, and on returning home found that the neighborhood was changing rapidly. My folks told me there was talk that the theater would be closing soon, so I made a point of going there as soon as possible.

I have no memory of the movie playing then, I really didn’t go for the movie. I went to see, for the last time, the beautiful decorations and mosaics that adorned the theater. The balconies were officialy closed, but I climbed over the ropes and made my way up the grand staircase examining all the mosaics and other decoration as I went. It wasn’t long before some security guard came looking for me (there were no ushers anymore). I explained what I was doing and why, and they said OK.

I then explored each of the grottoes on each side of the auditorium and marveled for one last time at the artistry of the fountain. Then a trip doen to the basement to view what was left of the decorations in the bathrooms, and I was done. The Avalon did close soon after that, and I married and moved to the west side (Austin). I never saw the interior of the Avalon again.

oldeastsider

weefolkstoys
weefolkstoys on May 3, 2005 at 11:49 am

Thanks Oldeastsider!

Yes that was a great old theater. I guess you did not see it change to the Regal later on. The Avalon became the Regal and was a legitimate theater featuring live acts – famous jazz and blues stars and black celebrities. It closed last year.

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