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New Movie Theater Coming To Hyde Park

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53rd Street

53rd Street in Hyde Park. (Credit: CBS)

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CHICAGO (CBS) – A new five-screen movie theater will be coming to the Hyde Park neighborhood, finally replacing a once-grand theater that has been shuttered for nearly a decade.

The U of C announced in a weekend news release that the New 400 Theaters independent movie chain will open in the university-owned theater building at 53rd Street and Harper Avenue.

The new theater will show a mix of art, children’s and wide-release films, according to the university.

The new 10,419 square-foot theater will feature five screens with digital projection. One screening room will have tables between the seats for lunch and dinner options, the U of C said.

Students will be offered discounts, as will children and seniors, but general admission will also be below market prices, the U of C said.

The U of C bought the Hyde Park Theater building in 2002, and has been seeking to renovate it as part of a greater plan to revitalize 53rd Street. The New 400 Theaters already operates a theater at 6746 N. Sheridan Rd. in the Rogers Park neighborhood.

New 400 owner Tony Fox said the Hyde Park location was ideal, due to its close proximity to the U of C campus, and the dedication of the community.

“We are proud to bring our theater to Hyde Park, a place where people really care about their community,” Fox said in the news release. “My passion is community service, and we hope to continue in the same tradition as we have done in Rogers Park — to bring safe, reliable and sound entertainment to the area.”

The U of C is also involved in the renovation of the Harper Court retail complex just across the street from the theater building. The plans for the complex call for about 80,000 square feet of retail space, a 150-room hotel, and a 12-story, 150,000 square-foot office building that will be used by the university, according to past reports.

The theater building at 5238 S. Harper Ave. opened in 1915 as the Harper Theater. It began as a single-screen, 1,201-seat cinema with a Kimball theater pipe organ, according to the Web site Cinema Treasures.

The theater screened a live production of the play “Enrico IV” by Luigi Pirandello in 1964, and drew record-breaking crowds to see Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein” after a renovation in 1975, the Hyde Park Herald reported. But in May 1983, the theater closed, and Bruce Sagan, the publisher of the Herald and the owner of the building, said he had no plans to reopen it.

But the theater did reopen in 1985, as a three-screen venue, and a fourth screen was added in 1988. By 1990, neighbors were complaining about the teenage audiences that were flooding the theater for R-rated crime movies, the Herald reported.

By the late 1990s, the theater had grown seedy, and was a source of mockery among U of C students.

The Meridian Entertainment Group bought the theater in 1999, only to see it closed by the city the following year due to tax problems at the company.

The theater reopened a second time in the fall of 2000 and remained in business for another year and a half, before finally closing for good in the spring of 2002 when Meridian went out of business, the Herald reported.

Since then, the student-operated Doc Films, which screens an eclectic and sometimes esoteric variety of movies nightly at the Ida Noyes student center, 1212 E. 59th St., has been the only option for moviegoers in Hyde Park. The management of the new theater is talking with Doc to see if there are “potential partnerships” to work out, the U of C said.

The new theater is set to open in 2012, the U of C said.

The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.

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