The Chicago Theatre

Chicago LoopNorma TalmadgeWorld War II (1939-1945)Buster Keaton

In a city once filled with enormous and elaborate movie houses, none has lasted longer or been more revered than the Chicago Theatre, a structure that in concept and design defines the golden age of movie palaces in the United States.

The first downtown theater built for the Balaban & Katz theater chain by the brother architects George and Cornelius W. Rapp, the Chicago dazzled its customers when it opened on this date.The Chicago had everything: a location at 175 N. State St. that dominated the Loop, an exterior ablaze with electric lights, a lobby with towering marble columns and a grand staircase, and a 3,880-seat auditorium.

The Chicago's opening day fare was typical of the entertainment that these shrines to movie fantasies were to offer for many years. There was a feature film, (the long-forgotten "The Sign on the Door," starring Norma Talmadge), a stage show with a star headliner ( Buster Keaton) and, of course, a mini-concert on the Mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ.

Other movie palaces soon rose above the storefronts and sidewalks.

But in post-World War II America, the old palaces fell on hard times.

The landmark Chicago, threatened with destruction in the mid-1970s, survived. Restored and brought back to something like its original luster, it opened again on Sept. 10, 1986. It has continued to function as an important part of Chicago's downtown life.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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Chicago LoopNorma TalmadgeWorld War II (1939-1945)Buster Keaton
  • Chicago Theater staircase, 1920
    Chicago Theater staircase, 1920

    The luxurious interiors of the movie palaces, such as the grand staircase at the Chicago Theater, were intended to "heighten the expectation of pleasure," according to architect George Rapp, who built the theater with brother Cornelius W. Rapp.

  • Chicago Theatre, 1986
    Chicago Theatre, 1986

    Unlike most movie palaces, the Chicago Theatre survived and reopened in 1986 as a performing arts center. The chandelier, which weighs twenty-two hundred pounds, is made of hand-cut Czechoslovak crystal.

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