The Piccadilly Remembered

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The Piccadilly Theater and Hotel (c. 1927) at East Hyde Park Boulevard and Blackstone Avenue was a major multi use anchor of north Hyde Park from the 1920s to 1950s, a late part of Hyde Park's hotel boom, and is featured on many postcards. By the 1960s, lifestyles- from movie theater patronage to the popularity of hotels, as well as demographics were changing and the building was threatened. The University of Chicago bought it for its expanding student base (especially for housing married and other graduate students in several declining large buildings along or near E. Hyde Park Blvd.), for off-site uses, and to stabilize an area important to keeping faculty living and safe in Hyde Park.

The following excerpts are taken from a Hyde Park Herald (http://www.hpherald.com/archive) August 9, 2006 article featuring the move of the Herald into long-unused restaurant space in the Piccadilly, as the Herald's quarters from 1961-2006, the Harper Theater/Herald building at Harper and 53rd, was being readied for redevelopment.

By Erin Meyer:

The Hyde Park Herald is finally settled into its new offices at 1435 E. Hyde Park Blvd. after six long months of first-floor renovations in the historic Piccadilly Hotel building. ...Brand new office space has been created from an abandoned restaurant space that had been empty for about 30 years.

Bruce Sagan, publisher of the Herald, said, "We are very pleased with three things: first, to have brand new handsome offices; second to have done this to an old, abandoned space and opened up the street's long painted over retail windows; and third, to no longer have to climb the highest second floor staircase in Hyde Park to get to the office."

The 14 story Piccadilly building at the corner of Hyde Park Boulevard and Blackstone Avenue was converted many years ago to graduate student housing for the University of Chicago, which owns the building.

The Piccadilly Theater and Hotel cost the South Side Schoenstadt movie circuit approximately $3 million to construct in 1927. The elaborate theater quickly became the flagship for the Schoenstadt's, who owned three movie houses in Hyde Park. In addition to the Piccadilly, they owned the now closed Harper Theater, 5238 Harper Ave., and the Hyde Park Theater, which was demolished to make way for the Hyde Park Bank drive-thru on [Old] Lake Park Avenue. However, as movie going habits changed, the 3,000-seat Piccadilly with its large vaudeville stage became obsolete.

Herman and his son Henry Schoenstadt lived in luxury suites on the top floors of the Piccadilly Hotel during the theater's heyday in the 1930s and 40s. Those suites have since been converted to a ballroom that occupies more than 80 percent of the 13th floor.

South Sider Bernard Williams grew up watching movies at the Piccadilly Theater. He remembers seeing "The Cattle Queen of Montana" with Barbara Stanwyck on the marquee. He said, "The Piccadilly was a very important part of the social fabrics back in the 1950s."

The Piccadilly's auditorium that one stood on the grounds south of the hotel structure was demolished to make tenant parking. But the theater lobby that was inside the hotel building remains largely intact. It is to the east of the new Herald office on Hyde Park Boulevard. In the closed-up space a Renaissance-style, vaulted ceiling spans four stories at its highest point, from which remnants of chandeliers and velvet curtains still hang.

Long time Hyde Parker Mike Perkovic works for the University of Chicago's Office of Real Estate Operations as building manager and engineer at the Piccadilly and was a great help to his new tenants. The theater's last movie screening preceded Perkovic's arrival in the neighborhood as a Croatian immigrant in 1968. but he remembered going to the Harper Theater before it closed. "I took my children to see 'Popeye' there," Perkovic said. He has lived in the 76-unit Piccadilly building with his wife Ruza since 1974.

"Very little has changed around here over the years, except for the loss of the theaters," he said. Perkovic says that in the closed-up lobby painted signs over the lobby's entrance announce "Giant Screen" and "3,000 seats" in faded letters and the theater marquee adorns the wall.

As a live-in hotel, the Piccadilly once served many famous guests. Former White Sox players rented rooms during baseball season [as well as at the Del Prado; Bill Veeck lived just down the street in Madison Park]. When the White Sox won the pennant in 1959, the first siren to go off in Chicago was at the Piccadilly, according to Williams.