Designed by architects Cornelius W. Rapp and George L. Rapp, the Chicago Theatre opened October 26, 1921, becoming the flagship of the Balaban and Katz chain.
Excerpts from Forest Leaves, November 10, 1921:
“The sixth Balaban & Katz theater-the Chicago-has made its appearance. It opened its doors to an anxious and curious crowd on last Wednesday at 6 o’clock in the evening.”
“The Chicago Theater is built on an ‘L’ shaped site. Sixty feet faces State street and 175 feet faces Lake street. The State street property is used exclusively for a lobby. It runs back ninety-six feet. This lobby or grand foyer, is a veritable jewel box lined with lustrous imported marble and set with ivories and gold. Great marble columns support the various promenades and an inspiring circular marble staircase rises majestically at the extreme end and runs upward several stories, interrupted only by the various landings. The ceiling proper is made up of a single exquisite dome.
“Inside the vast auditorium the visitor is confronted with an amazing sight, the theater is built amphitheater in [?] That is, it is wider than it is long, [?] is divided into three floors, the main floor, mezzanine and balcony. The mezzanine is made up of an exquisite horseshoe arrangement of boxes, tastily carved and artistically decorated. Of particular interest are the individual boxes running up the sides of the balcony floor, to the topmost part thereof. This is an innovation in theatrical construction [?] gives the theater an intimacy which is unusual in large playhouses. The architecture and the decorations follow the Louis XIV period, in lines of the [?} having been inspired by the magnificent Palace at Versailles.
“”The furniture is of Louis XIV period and was made of the finest materials France and Italy could supply. They are beautifully covered with silk velours and tapestries and the exposed wood parts are covered with gold leaf. Comfort together with luxury. That is the dominant note of the theater itself, and in keeping with this idea the theater chairs are air-cushioned, commodious and noiseless. They are the height of comfort.
“The Chicago Theater is equipped with one of the largest stages in the country. From end to end it measures 170 feet It has a proscenium opening of 70 feet and runs 35 feet in depth. It is of sufficient to accommodate the largest spectacular or operatic number and is so adjusted that a small specialty may be given the height of prominence.”
The Chicago Theatre placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979 and designated as a historic Chicago landmark on January 28, 1983. After closing in 1985, the Chicago Theatre Restoration Association purchased the theatre and after an extensive restoration reopened in 1986 with a performance by Frank Sinatra.
Historic Theatres and Movie Palaces of Balaban & Katz
Chicago Theatre on Blogspot
Top photograph: Betty Sword (all rights reserved)
Bottom: 1947 postcard showing three marquees along State Street (part of the Theatre Talks collection)
Cezar Del Valle is the author of the Brooklyn Theatre Index, chosen 2010 Best Book of the Year by the Theatre Historical Society.