4649 S. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive,
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When the Metropolitan opened in 1917, for the Ascher Brothers circuit on South Parkway (today South Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive) and East 46th Place, the South Side neighborhood was mostly middle-class Irish and German Jewish, but after WWI, as African-Americans poured in from the South, the area changed to a predominantly black neighborhood.
The Metropolitan could seat almost 1400 in elegant surroundings, and was equipped with both a then-state of the art projection system, and also air-conditioning, still a rarity in movie theaters, especially ones outside the downtown Loop. It was designed by Henry L. Newhouse.
Until the Metropolitan opened, its nearest competition was the far-smaller Revelry around the block on 47th Street, which went out of business just a few years later. Ascher Brothers staffed the Metropolitan with an all-white staff, and in its early years, there was constant tension between the mostly African-American patrons and the theater’s employees, which according to the management of the theater, was not tolerated.
However, in 1923, a black customer filed a complaint of discrimination with the NAACP against Ascher Brothers, who pledged to work with the NAACP to avoid any future incidents of discrimination.
When Carl Lewis, a black man, was hired as the Metropolitan’s assistant manager in 1926, it marked the first time in Chicago that an African-American rose to managerial ranks at a theater.
Around this time, Ascher Brothers hired Sammy Stewart, who was the biggest name in jazz in Chicago in the early to mid 20s, to perform at the Metropolitan. Stewart began to draw crowds of African-Americans by the thousands to the theater, and it was soon the most successful in the circuit.
Not only was Sammy Stewart a huge draw, but other major names in jazz of the era like Fats Waller and Erskine Tate also played the Metropolitan.
By the mid-to-late 20s, it was the most popular motion picture theater in Chicago for blacks.
However, by the early 30s, with the Depression on and the opening of the palatial Regal Theatre and Savoy Ballroom just up South Parkway, the audience at the Metropolitan began to decline rapidly.
Also, the theater management was growing less and less amenable to pay for the soaring costs of A-list performers and first-run features, which the Regal and Savoy’s owners were more than happy to.
Still, the Metropolitan survived, in fact, longer than its rival the Regal. Known in its later years as the Met, it screened second-run and later exploitation films, before closing in 1979.
Despite the pleas of area preservationists, stung by the loss of such landmarks as the Regal and the Savoy, who hoped to one day turn the former theater into a community center, the city ordered its demolition in late 1997.
Yet one more irreplacable piece of not only African-American, but Chicago history and culture was lost in the name of “progress”.
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