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The Central Park Theater has been a staple in Chicago’s North Lawndale community for decades. However, after many years of being an outlet for countless people, its future remains uncertain.
The Central Park Theater History
The Central Park Theater was built in 1917. It can hold 1,800 people, and it is also one of the first theaters in the nation to have air conditioning. In 1971, it became the location of the House of Prayer Church of God in Christ. It was founded by Pastor Dr. Lincoln Scott who purchased the theater and is succeeded by Pastor Robert Marshall.
The place of worship hosted numerous community concerts. A few of those who have appeared at the Central Park Theater are Shirley Caesar, Mighty Clouds of Joy, and other Gospel and secular greats. The Jackson 5 are also said to have graced the stage at one point and time. Some people vividly remember the last show or movie they viewed at the theater. In addition, others have many memories of the good times they had.
Recollecting the First Time in the Theater
One person with fond memories of Central Park Theater is Blanche Killingsworth. She is a North Lawndale community member and board member of the North Lawndale Historical Society.
Killingsworth mentioned a certain aspect that brought on her love for the building. She came from the south, where Jim Crow and segregation held Black people back from many opportunities.
When she came to Chicago, she was amazed. In the south, she was not allowed to sit in the first level and would have to sit in the back. So for her to come into the Central Park Theater without restrictions of any kind was wonderful. Just entering through the doors of the theater made the experience “magnificent.”
The Future of the Theater
The Central Park Theater was no doubt grand and beautiful in its heyday, as Pastor Robert and others could attest. However, not everything lasts without an upgrade every now and then. The church is longing to bring the theater back to its former glory with a full restoration.
According to the theater’s website, “a coalition of interdisciplinary partners” has joined the church in its efforts. They plan to redevelop the building to modern standards that better serve the North Lawndale community. There is currently an effort to raise the funds necessary to get this project finished. Anyone who would like to help out with this need can do so online. At the bottom of the about page on the theater’s website, there is a link to a GoFundMe campaign for the restoration.
Once completed, a new generation of people can experience the theater just like Killingsworth did when she came. In a video about the theater, she expressed her desire to make sure the building remains open. She declared, “If it’s the last thing I do, this theater will not go away.”
Written by Chiagozie Onyewuchi
Edited by Sheena Robertson
The Central Park Theater Website: “About” page
Featured Image Courtesy of Noah Vaughn’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image Courtesy of Eric Allix Rogers’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License