She Believed she Could, So she Did
So today’s post is going to cover two days because there is a two day layover in Chicago. I have not begun to dive into the history of the Chicago Theatre yet, but considering where it is, I bet it is really interesting so this post will begin today and end tomorrow and focus on the Chicago theatre.
Stop #20 and #21
Theatre: Chicago Theatre, Chicago IL
Trivia Facts/History of the Chicago Theatre:
The Chicago Theatre, originally known as the Balaban and Katz Chicago Theatre, is a landmark theatre located on North State Street in the Loop area of Chicago Illinois. Built in 1921, the Chicago Theatre was the flagship for the Balaban & Katz (B&K) group of theaters run by A.J.Balaban, his brother Barney Balaban and partner Sam Katz. Along with the other B&K theaters, from 1925 to 1945 the Chicago Theatre was a dominant movie theater enterprise. Currently, Madison Square Garden, Inc. owns and operates the Chicago Theatre as a performing arts venue for stage plays, magic shows, comedies, speeches and popular music concerts.
The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places June 6, 1979, and was listed as a Chicago Landmark January 28, 1983. The distinctive Chicago Theatre marquee, “an unofficial emblem of the city”, appears frequently in film, television, artwork, and photography.
History Part I
Abe and Barney Balaban, together with Sam and Morris Katz—founders of the Balaban and Katz theater chain, built the Chicago Theatre in 1921 as one of a large chain of opulent motions picture houses. The theater would become the flagship for 28 theaters in the city and over 100 others in the Midwestern United States that B&K operated in conjunction with the Paramount Publix chain. Cornelius W. Rapp and George L. Rapp were primary architects and the final construction cost was $4 million ($52.9 million in 2015 dollars). The Rapp brothers also designed many other B&K properties in Chicago, including the Oriental and Uptown Theatres. Preceded by the now-demolished Tivoli Theatre of Chicago and Capitol Theatre of New York City, the Chicago Theatre was the “…largest, most costly and grandest of the super deluxe movie palaces” built up to that date and thus now the oldest surviving grand movie palace. The Chicago Theatre was among the earliest theaters in the nation to be built in Rapp and Rapp’s signature Neo-Baroque French Revival style. It is the oldest surviving example of this style in Chicago.
The original 1921 interior decoration of the auditorium included fourteen large romantic French-themed murals surrounding the proscenium by Chicago artist Louis Grell (1887-1960), a common feature that Rapp and Rapp architects included in their movie palace designs.
When it opened October 26, 1921, the 3,880 seat theater was promoted as the “Wonder Theatre of the World”. Capacity crowds packed the theater during its opening week for the First National Pictures feature The Sign on the Door starring Norma Talmadge. Other attractions included a 50-piece orchestra, famed organist Jesse Crawford at the 26-rank Wurlitzer Theatre Organ—”Oh, yes, it was mighty,” recalled Orson Welles— and a live stage show. Poet Carl Sandburg, reporting for the Chicago Tribune, wrote that mounted police were required for crowd control. The Theater’s strategy of enticing movie patrons with a plush environment and top notch service (including the pioneering use of air-conditioning) was emulated nationwide.
During its first 40 years of operation, the Chicago Theatre presented premiere films and live entertainment. Throughout its existence, many of the top performers and stars of their day made live appearances at the theater. One of its biggest draws was live jazz, which Balaban and Katz promoted as early as September 1922 in a special event they called “Syncopation Week”. This proved so successful that jazz bands became a mainstay of the Chicago Theatre’s programming through the 1920s and into the 1930s. In preparation for the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago, the Chicago Theatre was redecorated. Part of the World’s Fair renovation included another commission by Balaban & Katz for Grell to repaint the architecturally enclosed fourteen murals. This time Grell chose Greek/Roman deities as the theme for the large oil on canvas murals which are on public exhibit today in the theatre auditorium. The building has been associated with popular culture occasions. For example, Ronald Reagan announced his engagement to Jane Wyman at the theater. Another modernization occurred in the 1950s when management discontinued stage shows.
During the economic and social changes of the 1970s, business at the theatre slowed for owner Plitt Theatres, affecting ongoing viability. In 1984, the Chicago Theatre Preservation Group purchased the theater and adjoining Page Brothers Building for $11.5 million ($26.1 million today). The group attempted to maintain the venue as a picture theater but was unable to remain viable and the facility closed September 19, 1985.
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