News about 53rd St. in Hyde Park, Chicago

harper theater

53rd Street Hosts First-Ever CONNECT Hyde Park Art Festival November 18-20

For the weekend of November 18-20, 2016, Hyde Park’s 53rd Street area will host the CONNECT Hyde Park Art Festival, as mentioned on the event website, “…a three-day, multi-sited arts festival that combines visual + performing art, designed objects, film, music, fashion and literary culture.”

Developed by Eric Williams, owner of The Silver Room located at 1506 E. 53rd Street, in partnership with the University of Chicago Commercial Real Estate Operations (CREO) group, the free festival “…provides the opportunity to explore and engage with cutting-edge contemporary art and design by some of Chicago’s leading artists, designers, curators and art institutions.”

“Based on the success of Eric Williams’ Downtown Hyde Park/Silver Room Block Party on 53rd Street this July, we are excited to collaborate on this special cultural event for the community, highlighting the strength of the Hyde Park arts community as well as the vibrancy of the neighborhood,” said James Hennessy, associate vice president for commercial real estate operations for the University.

“We have nearly 100 of the city’s finest artists confirmed to participate in CONNECT, including graphic designers, painters, photographers, installation artists, furniture designers, musicians, and more,” said Eric Williams, creator of the event. “This is a great opportunity to showcase Hyde Park and celebrate all forms of art.”

Exhibition sites include the Collaboration Gallery at 1538 E. 53rd Street (near Starbucks), featuring artists and South Side institutions; the Community Gallery at 1520 S. Harper Court (near Native Foods), with “Permanent Record: Chicago Hip Hop Kulture;” the Collective Gallery at 1504 E. 53rd Street (between Modern Cooperative and The Silver Room), highlighting local and emerging artists; and the Creation Gallery at 1465 E. 53rd Street (near Rajun Cajun), with designed objects from fashion to furniture. Additional exhibition venues include the Harper Theater at 5238 S. Harper Avenue, showing the film “Shake the Dust,” produced by Nasir “Nas” Jones, documenting the transformative power of hip hop in Colombia, Cambodia, Uganda, and Yemen; Sir & Madame at 5225 S. Harper Court; The Silver Room at 1506 E. 53rd Street; Modern Cooperative at 1500 E. 53rd Street; A10 Hyde Park at 1462 E. 53rd Street; and Jojayden at 1457 E. 53rd Street.

Local artists are invited to submit their works for possible exhibition by Sunday, November 13. Artists may submit up to five pieces of art from two series of artworks; one published and one unpublished in categories including watercolor, charcoal, photography, graffiti, illustration, graphic design, collage, sculpture, or multimedia. Submissions will be evaluated by a panel of CONNECT Hyde Park curators, and selected artists will be notified via email by Tuesday, November 15, with artwork needed by Thursday, November 17 at the designated gallery space.

The event is garnering local press in the Hyde Park Herald, DNA Chicago, and was named by Time Out Chicago as one of the “9 Art Gallery Exhibitions to See in November.”

Festival hours are Friday, November 18, from 5-10 pm; Saturday, November 19, from 12-10 pm; and Sunday, November 20, from 12-5 pm. There will be an after party on opening night at The Promontory, 5311 S. Lake Park Avenue, from 10 pm -2 am, featuring jazz great, Kahil El-Zabar, with additional performers to be announced.

Parking is free in the Harper Court garage (entry on South Lake Park Avenue just south of McDonald's) from 5 pm on Friday, November 18 through 11:59 pm on Sunday, November 20 for the duration of the CONNECT event.  Parkers are instructed to pull into the garage as normal, pull a ticket, and as long as they enter and exit between those time periods, it will register as $0 being owed when they show the ticket at exit.

For more information, visit the event website and Facebook and Instagram accounts.

Faces of 53rd Street: Bella Tronou

By Rosalind Cummings-Yeates

Bella Tronou exudes a warm, bubbly essence. Even as she attends to an unhappy customer at Hyde Park’s Harper Theater, her manner is unruffled and pleasant. By the time she hands the clamorous patron passes for a replacement movie, the woman is smiling and laughing, like she has been infected by Tronou’s easygoing spirit.

As general manager of Harper Theater, Tronou manages 13 employees and is in the theater six days a week. The 25-year-old enjoys all the responsibility, including dealing with unhappy customers. “I like helping out customers,” says Tronou.  “If I can make them happy, I'm happy.”

Happiness and a better life were the ultimate goals for Tronou and her family when they moved from Togo, West Africa, to Chicago 15 years ago. As a fourth grader, Tronou was excited about making a new life. Some of the adjustments she made in her new country were easy. “We lived in Edgewater and I had a teacher who spoke French, and there were a lot of kids from different countries,” said Tronou, who speaks five languages, including French, Mena, Ewe, and Efon. “School had more freedom in America. In Africa, it was very serious. You couldn't say whatever you wanted to, to the teacher or not do your homework.”

After graduating from Sullivan High School, she enrolled in Everest College for the medical assistant program but quickly discovered that she wasn't cut out for medicine. Still, she earned her medical assistant diploma then enrolled at Devry for a business administration degree with a concentration in management. Working her way through college, she landed a part-time job as an usher at the 400 Theater in the Rogers Park neighborhood.

“I was working another job overnight at Misercordia as a direct service professional, trying to pay down my student loans,” she said. Even while juggling school and two jobs, Tronou was a hard worker and was quickly promoted from usher to shift supervisor at the theater. She quit the Misercordia job and was promoted again to assistant manager of the theater. “Within five months, I went from usher to assistant manager,” said Tronou. “I was in charge of the internal and external cleaning of the theater and I ended up sucking at that job,” she recalled. Her manager decided to fire her, but Tony Fox, the theater's owner, decided that Tronou’s work ethic made her worth another chance. So he demoted her instead.

“When she was twice demoted, I met with her and said, ‘Okay, Bella, you have two choices. You could feel sorry for yourself and quit, or improve on what you need improving on and re-earn another promotion,’” recalls Fox, who now also operates Harper Theater.

“He helped me understand what I needed to do,” Tronou said. “I was thrown into (the assistant manager) position without proper training. In 2012, I was promoted, demoted and almost fired all in one year,” she said. Rather than become discouraged, Tronou, back to being a regular shift supervisor, worked harder and harder. Soon, in 2013, she was promoted to assistant manager again, this time helping the general manager with day-to-day operations. She also helped with marketing, social media and events. Plus, this was her senior year at Devry, so she worked three days and went to school three days.

In 2014, she traveled to Bordeaux, France, for Devry's international studies program. When she returned, Fox asked her if she'd like to work at Harper Theater. “I thought I was going to help the manager. Then they fired all the managers, and I filled in while they were trying to find someone,” she said. “After two weeks, Tony said, 'I've seen how you work, the job is yours.' It was pretty scary and exciting at the same time.”

Taking her hard won success in stride, Tronou credits her father as motivation. “I look up to my dad,” she said. “He was in the military but went to school too. He earned the highest degree in Africa, equivalent to a PhD.  He's pretty smart and I try to push myself like he did.”

After graduating last summer, Tronou has turned her focus toward the Hyde Park community. After living most of her life in Edgewater and Rogers Park, she's absorbing the neighborhood's characteristics and will move to Hyde Park this month. “The residents are more involved in their community here. They love walking down 53rd and hanging out. Hyde Park never disappoints.”

 

"Faces of 53rd Street" is a new twice-monthly series that profiles business owners, employees, and shoppers who contribute to the vibrancy and mix of activities in Hyde Park's 53rd Street commercial corridor. If you'd like to recommend a familiar face on 53rd Street for a profile, write to us at 53rd@lists.uchicago.edu.

53rd Street area merchants offer “First Weekend” fun and discounts to UChicago students, Jan. 9 and 10

Hyde Park’s 53rd Street is expected to be bustling with activity this weekend, as more than two dozen merchants in the retail corridor welcome University of Chicago students back from winter break with a First Weekend event on Friday and Saturday, Jan. 9 and 10, from 6 - 11 p.m.

Organized as part of the University’s UChicago Local initiative to support businesses on the mid-South Side, the event includes nine stores, 16 restaurants, and seven other local businesses – each offering special happenings, discounts, samples, or raffles for students who show their valid UChicago ID.

Some of the event highlights for students include the Harper Theater’s (5238 S. Harper Ave.) free midnight showings of Caddyshack, the Promontory’s (5311 S. Lake Park Ave. West) “Polar Bear Party” and raffle for De La Soul concert tickets, and the raffle for three months of free laundry service from Kimbark Coin Laundry (1218 E. 53rd St.). In addition, the Doughnut Vault food truck will be parked in front of Nichols Park (1355 E. 53rd St.) both nights, selling its popular treats. The UChicago Police Field Office (1411 E. 53rd St.) will be giving away water bottles and cinch bags for students registering a bicycle or laptop computer on Friday night until 8 p.m.

Formerly known as “First Friday,” the quarterly event, coordinated by the University’s commercial real estate team and the Office of Campus and Student Life, has been extended to include Saturday night based on positive merchant feedback from previous events. UChicago will offer increased shuttle service between 53rd Street and the main Hyde Park campus both nights.

“Several new businesses, including short-term pop-up shops, have opened on 53rd Street since the beginning of the current academic year,” said James M. Hennessy, associate vice president for commercial real estate operations for the University. “The First Weekend event is an opportunity to introduce or reacquaint UChicago students with the wide array of shopping, dining and entertainment options on the street, while supporting local retailers.”

For the full list of participating businesses and offers, students can visit http://firstweekend.splashthat.com/

Promontory to preview menu at KAM Isaiah Israel’s April 26 fundraiser

Award-winning chef Jared Wentworth, will prepare the cuisine for KAM Isaiah Israel Congregation’s spring fundraiser on Saturday, April 26—offering attendees a chance to preview fare from the Promontory, a new restaurant, bar and concert venue set to open soon on 53rd Street.

Wentworth, who will helm the kitchen at the Promontory, has won praise for his work at Longman & Eagle, a popular Chicago restaurant whose owners include the Promontory’s partners Bruce Finkelman and Craig Golden. The Promontory will be located on the southwest corner of 53rd Street at Lake Park, in the same building as Akira and CorePower Yoga.

Along with sampling the Promontory’s fare, those attending the fundraiser will have a chance to purchase tickets to a raffle that features items from several 53rd Street businesses, including A10 restaurant, Harper Theater, Hyatt Place hotel, Kilwin’s, and LA Fitness. Other Hyde Park businesses will also have items in the raffle.

The fundraiser, themed “It’s Spring and All That Jazz,” will pay tribute to the history of jazz in Hyde Park, with a performance by renowned singer and South Side resident Tammy McCann and a talk by WBEZ radio’s Richard Steele. It will be held at 1100 E. Hyde Park Boulevard in Chicago, beginning with cocktails and a raffle at 6:30 p.m., followed by dinner and jazz at 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $150 per person and can be purchased on KAM Isaiah Israel’s website.

Renovation of Harper Theater Receives Two Preservation Awards

By Katherine Steward

In 2008, a vacant and rundown Harper Theater Building complex was placed on Landmark Illinois’ watch list for endangered buildings. This month, the complex will receive the second of two recent awards for a renovation project that has brought the historic buildings on the northwest corner of 53rd Street and Harper back into use.

The Hyde Park Historical Society recently named the University of Chicago as recipient of the 2014 Marian and Leon Despres Preservation Award for its renovation of the Harper Theater Building complex. The award, which recognizes “outstanding achievements in the preservation of Hyde Park's architectural heritage,” will be given at the Historical Society’s annual dinner on February 22. In October 2013, the renovation project received Landmarks Illinois’ prestigious Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Preservation Award in the rehabilitation category, which honors work that allows for continued use of a historic site.

The University purchased the buildings in 2002 and, as part of broader redevelopment efforts on 53rd Street, undertook a major renovation in 2008.

“Early on, we recognized the architectural heritage of the property and the historical significance of the buildings as a gathering place for the community, and we wanted to restore that,” said James Hennessy, associate vice president for Commercial Real Estate Operations at the University of Chicago. “We are delighted to receive these awards on behalf of the many individuals and organizations that contributed to re-opening the buildings for community use—from local aldermen and community leaders who supported the effort, to the artisans who completed the renovation work and the tenants who committed to lease space in the buildings.”

Designed by architect Horatio Wilson, the Harper Theater Building opened in 1914. The theater space was a 1,200-seat vaudeville house, which was converted to a movie theater in the 1930s. The movie theater closed in 2002 and the building sat vacant for more than a decade before it was renovated and reopened in January 2013. Renovations on the buildings included restoring the external façade and installing a replica of the theater’s original marquee.

The Harper Theater complex now houses the four-screen Harper Theater, Hyde Park’s only first-run movie theater; A10, an upscale Italian restaurant by chef Matthias Merges; and the Chicago Innovation Exchange, which is under construction and expected to open by the end of the year.

In a press release announcing the statewide Driehaus Award recipients, Landmarks Illinois President Bonnie McDonald noted, “This year’s winners of a Richard H. Driehaus Preservation Award demonstrate that preservation is not only a tool to rejuvenate a vacant building, but a key revitalization strategy for business, government, and community purposes.”

The Hyde Park Historical Society bestows the Marian and Leon Despres Award in honor of the late Chicago alderman and activist Leon Despres and his wife. Leon Despres was a 1927 graduate of the College at the University of Chicago and a 1929 graduate of the Law School.

 

 

Yusho Hyde Park is moving forward

Chef Matthias Merges, owner of the new Hyde Park restaurant A10, said he is moving forward with plans to open a second restaurant in the neighborhood, the Japanese-inspired Yusho Hyde Park, at 1301 E. 53rd Street.

Merges anticipates a summer 2014 opening for Yusho and said future customers can expect “great hospitality and great cuisine” at the restaurant, a Hyde Park version of his successful Yusho concept in the Avondale neighborhood.

A recent court ruling cleared the way for Yusho Hyde Park to serve alcohol at 1301 E. 53rd Street, which had previously been part of a dry precinct. Last month, a lawsuit challenging a petition signed by local residents to un-dry the precinct was dismissed with prejudice, and the Circuit Court of Cook County deemed the petition valid.

"I’m here for the long haul. I believe in Hyde Park and what it has to offer,” Merges said. The chef added that construction of the restaurant needs to be completed and that he has to obtain a permit and a liquor license from the city of Chicago.

James Hennessy, Associate Vice President for Commercial Real Estate at the University of Chicago, said the University is pleased to be able to bring Yusho Hyde Park to the neighborhood.

“The success of A10 so far, as well as local support of plans for Yusho, shows that the community has an appetite for new dining options, and we look forward to seeing Yusho open soon,” Hennessy said. “Having a second restaurant by Matthias Merges, an award-winning chef, will further complement everything 53rd Street and the Hyde Park neighborhood have to offer.

Merges opened A10 in November at 1462 E. 53rd Street—next door to the Harper Theater, which opened in early 2013, and across the street from the Hyatt Place hotel, which opened in September 2013. A10 is open for lunch and dinner.

Innovation Hub Coming to 53rd Street

The University of Chicago announced today that it plans to open a new center for business creation in two buildings at the intersection of 53rd Street and Harper Avenue.

The Chicago Innovation Exchange will promote collaborations among different parts and affiliates of the University and will incubate and support new business ventures by entrepreneurs within and outside the University.

Read more about it on the UChicago website.

Comfort Me Boutique pop-up shop coming to Hyde Park

Chicago-based retailer Comfort Me Boutique is set to open a temporary location on 53rd Street on August 2. The pop-up store will be located at 5241 S. Harper Avenue.

Comfort Me Boutique, which operates a store in Lincoln Park, sells comfortable and stylish women's clothing, jewelry, gifts, and vintage and new furnishings for the home. If the temporary location is successful, it could eventually become long-term, said Alyssa Thomas, a co-owner of the store.

"We are so excited to be a part of Hyde Park and think that we can provide a unique shopping experience," Thomas said in a press release. "We're hopeful that the Hyde Park community will appreciate the fact that we're a family-owned business that supports local designers and carries lines that are made in the U.S."

The store will hold a grand opening event, with refreshments and live music, on August 10, from 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.

The Comfort Me Boutique – Hyde Park will be located across the street from the Harper Theater and Kilwins, and next to the new Hyatt Place hotel that is set top open this fall.

The retailer joins more than a dozen new businesses opened or opening along the 53rd Street corridor since 2011, complementing the existing businesses in the neighborhood. The strong growth in retail, restaurant and entertainment options in Hyde Park is the result of a joint effort among the community, the University of Chicago and the City of Chicago to bring new amenities and economic vitality to Hyde Park, which serves as a commercial hub for the South Side as well as a destination for visitors from around Chicago and the nation.

 

 

 

A look inside the new hotel

Construction crews at the Hyatt Place hotel site are working toward a fall opening, and a model room already has been completed.

The model room on the second floor of the six-story hotel includes two queen beds; the 131-room Hyatt Place will also include king beds, “boardroom suites,” and wheelchair-accessible guestrooms. Each room will include a 42-inch flat panel HDTV, a small refrigerator, and single-serve coffee maker.

The hotel under construction at 5225 S. Harper Avenue will feature free wi-fi throughout, a 24-hour fitness center, an indoor pool, and meeting space and packages.

Maurese Nelson, the hotel’s sales director, said the hotel has been taking reservations over the phone (773-752-5300) and “there are over 200 confirmed room nights on the books.”

The Hyatt Place is part of the Harper Court development and sits just east of the Harper Court office tower and is across the street from Harper Theater.

Revitalized 53rd Street energizes community

The University of Chicago says redevelopment efforts “are making 53rd Street a more lively retail district” and that residents and businesses are benefitting from Hyde Park’s growth as a destination for dining, shopping and fun. Laura Milani Alessio writes:

The redevelopment of Harper Theater and nearby storefronts is part of the University of Chicago’s effort to partner with local businesses, residents, and elected officials to spur economic development along 53rd Street, a vital commercial corridor for Hyde Park. Chicago businesses increasingly see 53rd Street as a prime opportunity for growth, creating a sense of momentum that is drawing new ventures and customers to the area. The developments are creating new entertainment, dining, and retail options for the entire community—along with an estimated 1,320 new jobs—while building on the neighborhood’s appeal for UChicago students and faculty.

Read the full story and view new photos of 53rd Street here.

Friends Bryant Mclemore-Smith (left) and Makali Robinson (holding his daughter Nila) chat with Robinson's mother-in-law Patricia Jordan at 53rd Street and Harper Avenue in Hyde Park. (Photo by Rob Kozloff)

KAM congregation extends spring gala to 53rd Street

If you’re looking for a way to enjoy a “night on the town” in Hyde Park, you could certainly find it next Saturday, April 27. It is set to be an evening to look back on history and look forward to things to come. 

New and upcoming offerings on 53rd Street will be on display as Harper Theater holds a private showing of 42, the new film detailing Jackie Robinson’s story as the integrator of American baseball, and chef Matthias Merges (of Charlie Trotter’s fame) previews the fare of his new bistro restaurant coming to Hyde Park. Merges is set to open the yet-to-be-named restaurant, along with Yusho Hyde Park, as part of redevelopment on 53rd Street.

Adding to the excitement, Jonathan Eig, the New York Times best-selling author of Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson’s First Season, will discuss baseball in the early 20th century.

The evening’s line-up has been put together as part of KAM Isaiah Israel’s Spring Gala fundraiser. KAM is the oldest Jewish congregation in the Midwest and a longtime presence in Hyde Park. Tickets start at $125 per person and the event starts at 6 p.m. For more information visit the event’s website here.

Now Playing at Harper Theater: 53rd Street

The Harper Theater recently added a new trailer to its lineup of preview clips: a promo inviting moviegoers to explore 53rd Street.

The 77-second video highlights retail, dining, and entertainment options—including newcomers such as Akira, Clarke’s and Kilwins, as well as longtime 53rd Street businesses such as Mellow Yellow, Chant, and Freehling Pots and Pans. The clip also previews CorePower Yoga, Hyatt Place hotel, and new restaurants by award-winning chef Matthias Merges, which are expected to open later this year.

Kilwins to debut sweet offerings on 53rd Street this weekend

Hyde Parker Jackie Jackson says she expects to open her new Kilwins Chocolate, Fudge and Ice Cream shop in the 53rd Street retail corridor by December 8. The store, located at 5226 S. Harper Avenue, will offer hand-crafted chocolates, truffles, hot apple cider, hot chocolate (made from real chocolate), cappuccinos, and other warm treats, alongside gourmet ice cream and candy.

The Hyde Park shop will be only the second Kilwins in the Chicago area. “We think this location is going to be great,” said Jackson, who co-owns the business with her fiancé, Kenneth Faulkner, and has operated the Kilwins in the Old Town neighborhood since 2008. “As Hyde Park residents, we’re especially excited to be opening here.”

To honor the community, the Hyde Park Kilwins will offer a new ice cream flavor called Hyde Park Mud, a combination of creamy vanilla ice cream, caramel swirls and chocolate chips. Customers will be able to enjoy free Wi-Fi, large-screen TVs, and seating for up to 30 people. Jackson and Faulkner also plan to make the new store a site for social gatherings, with events like open-mic poetry, “Jazz and Java,” birthday parties and fudge demonstrations. They hope to partner with local churches, schools and other organizations that might want to use Kilwins products for fundraising.

Ice Cream & Treats

Jackson and Faulkner have hired new employees for the store and expects to have 16 employees during peak seasons. She says they “will be working like little Santa’s elves” to get everything ready for a first day of business this Saturday. While she is planning a grand opening event for December 21 (with prizes, photo ops with Kilwin the Moose, and a chance to win free fudge for a year), she wants to be sure the store is open in time to allow customers to order customized gift baskets for the holidays.

Regular store hours will be 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. Monday – Friday, and 10 a.m. – 11 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. However, Jackson adds that Kilwins might adjust its hours to accommodate late-night theatergoers after the new Harper Theater opens.

Kilwins is located just north of the theater, which is expected to open in the coming weeks. Both new businesses are part of a broader effort to revitalize the 53rd Street retail corridor. The University of Chicago first announced the Kilwins lease signing in February this year.

Signage going up at Harper Theater

Workers began installing the marquee and vertical blade signs at Harper Theater this week, signaling that the new theater will be opening soon.

The New 400 Theaters will operate the theater at 53rd Street and Harper Avenue as a four-screen multiplex, with 90 to 138 seats per screen. Sign installation is scheduled to be complete today, and the newly renovated theater is expected to open in the coming weeks.


The blade sign, which is 24-feet tall and about 4-feet wide, arrived at the theater site earlier this week. Photo courtesy of Jon Dennis.


Installation of the 38’ x 3’6”marquee is nearly complete. Photo by Rob Kozloff.


The Harper Theater blade sign lit up last night. Photo by Rob Kozloff.

what's up with harper theater...

In addition to Harper Court, there is another University-owned property that is awaiting a makeover. The old Harper Theater building on the corner of 53rd Street and Harper Avenue has been vacant since the movie theater closed due to financial and management issues. Residents at the last TIF Advisory Council Meeting expressed concern that development is not moving faster.

The University purchased the building in 2002 and would also love to see it put to use, said Susan Campbell from the university’s Office of Civic Engagement, who is responsible for making sure that development strategies will boost the quality of life in the surrounding communities – i.e. make sure we will be able to shop, eat out and have fun, without leaving our neighborhoods.

Residents and potential developers recognize that the building has an important location and could really make 53rd street shine once it’s redeveloped. University folks recognize that as well.

“I want everyone to know that we feel the same way,” Campbell said at the meeting. “The developers of Harper Court feel the same way, and some of the people making proposals about that building’s development feel the same way, so we are all of like mind regarding the Harper Theater property.”

Campbell also mentioned that the slow economy has complicated efforts to find the right plan. Residents have offered a wide variety of ideas about what should be done with the building; some want it renovated, while others want it demolished.

“What we have heard is a mixture of thought,” she said. “We are not hearing a consensus, so we are considering all things at this point.”