grandeur of The Chicago
Theatre often leaves its
visitors breathless. The elegant lobby, majestic staircase
and beautiful auditorium, complete with murals above
the stage and on the ceiling, are components of an amazing
building called “the Wonder Theatre of the World” when
it opened on October 26, 1921.
|The Chicago Theatre was the first large,
lavish movie palace in America and was the prototype
for all others. This beautiful movie palace was constructed
for $4 million by theatre owners Barney and Abe Balaban
and Sam and Morris Katz and designed by Cornelius
and George Rapp. It was the flagship of the Balaban
and Katz theatre chain.
Built in French Baroque style, The
Chicago Theatre’s exterior features a miniature replica
of Paris’ Arc de Triomphe, sculpted above its State Street
marquee. Faced in a glazed, off-white terra cotta, the
triumphal arch is sixty feet wide and six stories high.
Within the arch is a grand window in which is set a large
circular stained-glass panel bearing the coat-of-arms
of the Balaban and Katz chain – two horses holding ribbons
of 35-mm film in their mouths.
||The grand lobby, modeled after the
Royal Chapel at Versailles, is five stories high
and surrounded by gallery promenades at the mezzanine
and balcony levels. The grand staircase is patterned
after that of the Paris Opera House and ascends to
the various levels of the Great Balcony.
|The 3,600 seat auditorium
is seven stories high, more than one half of a city
block wide, and nearly as long. The vertical sign "C-H-I-C-A-G-O," at
nearly six stories high, is one of the few such signs
in existence today. A symbol of State Street and
Chicago, the sign and marquee are landmarks in themselves,
as is the 29-rank Wurlitzer theatre pipe organ.
Balaban and Katz spared no expense
on the workmanship and materials for this miniature Versailles.
Marshall Field's supplied the drapes, furniture and interior
decoration. Victor Pearlman and Co. designed and built
the crystal chandeliers and lavish bronze light fixtures
with Steuben glass shades. The McNulty Brothers' master
craftsmen produced the splendid plaster details and Northwestern
Terra Cotta Company provided the tiles for the facade.
|The Chicago Theatre first
opened its doors on October 26, 1921 with Norma Talmadge
on screen in "The Sign on the Door." A
50-piece orchestra performed in the pit and Jesse
Crawford played the mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ.
After a "white glove inspection," a staff
of 125 ushers welcomed guests who paid 25 cents until
1 p.m., 35 cents in the afternoon and 50 cents after
During its first 40 years, The Chicago
Theatre presented the best in live and film entertainment,
including John Phillip Sousa, Duke Ellington,
Jack Benny, and Benny Goodman. The Chicago Theatre
was redecorated in preparation for the 1933 Chicago World's
Fair and "modernized" in the 1950s when stage
shows, with few exceptions, were discontinued. In the
1970s, under the ownership of the Plitt Theatres, The
Chicago Theatre was the victim of a complex web of social
and economic factors causing business to sag. It became
an ornate but obsolete movie house, closing on September
In 1986, Chicago Theatre Restoration
Associates, with assistance from the City of Chicago,
bought and saved the theatre from demolition and began
a meticulous nine-month multi-million dollar restoration
undertaken by Chicago architects Daniel P. Coffey & Associates,
Ltd. and interior design consultants A.T. Heinsbergen & Co.
of Los Angeles, interior design consultants. The Chicago
Theatre reopened on September 10, 1986 with a gala performance
by Frank Sinatra.
Since that time, an array of the entertainment
world’s brightest stars and greatest productions have
graced the stage, including Johnny Mathis, Al
Jarreau, Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle, Barry White,
Harry Connick Jr, Lyle Lovett, Prince, the Isley Brothers,
Allman Brothers Band, Indigo Girls, Blues Traveler, Gipsy
Kings, Buena Vista Social Club, Oasis, Beck, Robin Williams,
David Letterman, Ellen DeGeneres and lengthy
engagements of Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor
Dreamcoat starring Donny Osmond and Disney’s Beauty
and the Beast.
The Chicago Theatre remains a vital
part of both the history of State Street and the future
of the North Loop Theatre District. It was purchased
by TheatreDreams Chicago, LLC on April
1, 2004, and will continue to be an active and vibrant
venue offering a variety of entertainment, including
stage events, concerts, dance, comedy and special events.
With something for everyone to enjoy, The Chicago Theatre
is truly Chicago’s Theatre.