The Hyde Park Historical Society (HPHS) held its annual awards dinner on Saturday at the Quadrangle Club, celebrating the preservation of two historic Hyde Park landmarks: the Harper Theater and the Shoreland Hotel.
The Marian and Leon Despres Preservation Awards have been awarded each year since their establishment in 2005. They are presented to two organizations or persons that have championed the preservation or restoration of old Hyde Park buildings. Nominations are accepted from the community and are approved by the board members of the society, according to Kathy Huff, a member of the HPHS board.
The first award was presented to MAC Property Management for the redevelopment of the historic Shoreland Hotel. Opening in 1926, the Shoreland hosted distinguished guests like Elvis Presley, Amelia Earhart, and Al Capone, as well as the University’s own Milton Friedman (A.M. '33) during its time as a hotel. It was an important entertainment spot in Hyde Park for many years, hosting many banquets, weddings, and bar mitzvahs.
In 1976, the University bought the hotel and converted it into a residence hall. Shoreland Hall housed students until 2008, when, after years of deterioration, the building was bought by MAC, which restored the hotel up to “National Park Service standards for historical preservation,” according to the HPHS. Notably, MAC made sure to restore the 1930s-style ballroom. Today, the Shoreland is a luxury apartment building.
The University received this year’s second award for the “rehabilitation of the Harper Theater buildings.” Built in the arts and crafts style of architecture, the theater originally opened in 1914 as a vaudeville house and was redone as a movie theater in 1935. Harper Theater drew audiences until 2002, when it closed.
The University acquired the buildings that year, intending to convert it into retail space. As it had fallen into a state of disrepair, the theater was nearly demolished. However, Pam Haley, a concerned Hyde Park resident, spearheaded a campaign to save the theater’s buildings. Haley collected between 2,000 and 3,000 signatures in support of preserving the buildings.
“The biggest challenge was probably the fact that the momentum was charged by the University and by various real estate interests,” she said.
Recognizing the community support, the University instead decided to restore the buildings back to their former glory, hiring a developer to refurbish the exterior of the building, rebuild the entrance, and install a copy of the original sign.
Harper Theater reopened in 2012, under the management of Tony Fox, who also owns a movie theater in Rogers Park. According to Associate Vice President for Real Estate Operations James Hennessy, who accepted the award on behalf of the University, it has seen commercial success.
“110,000 people showed up within the first 11 months of the theater [opening],” Hennessy said, adding that it took the Rogers Park location three years to reach this milestone.
“In my opinion, [the Harper Theater restoration] catalyzed the rest of what you see going on in 53rd Street today.”