Photo credit: Melanie L. Brown for Steed Media Service
Rolling out interviewed Jerald Gary, the new owner of the New Regal Theater. The 30-year-old talked about his memories of the Regal and how he came to acquire this historic building on the South Side of Chicago.
Who is Jerald Gary?
I am a private equity investor. I bought the Regal Theater in 2014 to provide access to the performing arts for the community. I created the Chicago Regal Foundation to use the theater as a cultural asset that the community can leverage through various arts nonprofits. My day to day is figuring out how to render capital of the community more active and productive.
Were you involved in the arts growing up?
I was in Alyo Children’s Dance Theater, Gallery 37, Merit School of Music, and in school I was a percussionist. I was very close to majoring in music. I ended up doing finance and aviation.
Why did you chose aviation?
I just always wanted to fly planes. It started when I had the chance to fly with one of the Tuskegee Airmen in the Young Eagles program.
Where are you from?
I grew up down the street on 79th and Evans.
What do you remember about the Regal growing up?
You know what I don’t have many memories of the Regal but I came to one concert here with the Chicago Sinfonietta as a child. I haven’t been in here since then. It’s a shame all the businesses around here closed as soon as the Regal closed.
What is some history that you’ve heard about the Regal?
When I was growing up, the Regal was really in its prime. It reopened in 1987. It revived in 85′. I think it took them two years to do renovation, reopened it in 1987, and got it a landmark right there in ’92. Matter of fact, Mayor Harold Washington facilitated some money because doing the political thing for office in return was bringing dollars into the community. I got a picture of Ed Gardner and Harold Washington right there in the lobby. Harold was giving Ed a million-dollar check for the restoration. I saw a flyer the other day, it was Tupac and Biggie’s first time in Chicago on the Regal Theater stage. They were introducing a new [act], 17-year-old Kanye West, at the bottom of the flyer. Crucial Conflict was at the show, Da Brat was at the show, Common was at the show and a couple of other artists, at one show. That was the type of stuff that was going on. I [saw] Common and told him I was about to buy the Regal Theater and he stated how he thought Beyoncé and Jay were going to buy it. There was no Regal Theater from the mid ’70s until Avalon Theater was restored and they did the New Regal in 1987.
Who were some of the people that got their start with plays here?
Tyler Perry got his start at the Regal Theater. I was too young to go to his stuff but I remember his bus being in the parking lot. He was sleeping in his bus. It was a lot of church plays here.
Have you thought about changing the name from the New Regal Theater?
Yes, so we are going to change the name to Avalon Regal Theater because the building we’re in is the Avalon, which was from 1927 up until the mid ’70s. It was the Operation Regal Theater in Bronzeville so at the time so we had a lot of Irish German immigrants who lived here who came here for shows. Somebody came to me and said ” Wait right here.” The person came back and gave me a flyer from 1929 of a silent movie/music dance with the orchestra pit. They would do that type of stuff here until like the ’60s. It was mostly a movie house before they had multiplexes, this was the spot to come and see movies. A lot of white people come to me and say they use to come to Avalon and use to watch cartoons on Saturday. That’s the heritage as well, we want to preserve. The whole legacy of the Avalon Regal Theater (ART) is what we’re trying to get trending, the rich heritage of the South Side. The concept we have is we really feel this could be a Beale Street like in Memphis, [Tennessee]. They got like 20 or 30 music joints like on one strip, [along with] restaurants and bars. 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. Why can’t we have this [be] Beale Street? I feel like the South Side is like the Africa of the city. I think we have the opportunity to do crazy stuff like they did in Dubai. It’s cheap to do. We bought the Regal for $100,000. When I say “we” I mean the companies I chair. We bought it from the FDIC. It took us about nine months to negotiate because it’s a landmark. We had to get a blessing from a commissioner. We got about $7 million dollars worth of work to do. Three million dollars of that is on the facade. We probably are going to do a Kickstarter campaign.
How many people can this place hold?
At once, this place could hold 4,000 but we’ll never do anything that crazy. We’ll probably do some pretty big 2,250 seat concerts.
Who is somebody that you definitely want to see walk through the doors?
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?
What else do you want to do here at the Regal?
Hologram art looks amazing. These projectors are getting more high definition. It looks amazing to see it in production, so we’re trying to put these projectors in the theater. If we play our cards right this will be the first and only venue in Chicago to install that type of technology in the theater. That’s going to ring back everybody that’s on that west wall out there to show these kids that you know these are the originals. Not just Billie Holiday, Lena Horne and Cab Calloway but you know Tupac and Biggie now. We need to celebrate that part of our culture, the hip hop piece.
When do you plan on opening?
We hope to be running by 2017.
How can people get more information about the Regal?
They can go to www.regaltheater.org and it has a lot of information about the project and the Regal itself.