Ford Center for the Performing Arts Oriental Theatre

24 W. Randolph Street,
Chicago, IL 60601

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Showing 26 - 50 of 183 comments

DavidZornig on July 7, 2011 at 3:01 pm

Thanks for posting that picture btkrefft. My father worked as a musician at the Sherman House Hotel in the background, right around this same time after WWII. First as a trombone player, then on upright bass after big band faded out. He played in the Del Rainy Trio, and once played with Stan Kenton. He met my mom in 1954. She was a showgirl at the Silver Frolics at Kinzie & Wabash. He later went on to compose the Miller High Life theme, which got his foot in the door of Chicago industrial film.

Paul Fortini
Paul Fortini on January 11, 2011 at 2:06 pm

I wonder if some of those old kung-fu movies are on DVD. I’ve always been curious about them.

JudithK on January 8, 2011 at 7:14 am

I hope so, too (ghosts not invited – ha!).

DavidZornig on January 8, 2011 at 7:06 am

Well this must be a first.
This February The Oriental will be hosting the upcoming Chicago mayoral debates and telecasting them live on ABC Channel 7.

It will be interesting to see if they do any exterior or interior panoramic shots to showcase the theatre.
Someone needs to snap a pic of the marquee advertising this event if they do so.

Tim O'Neill
Tim O'Neill on January 3, 2011 at 10:26 pm

The Oriental presented its final kung-fu triple on this date, 30 years ago, and closed its doors. The theatre finally re-opened in 1998 as a live stage venue.

JudithK on December 24, 2010 at 11:47 am

Yes, that must be it. I have never been at the Limelight/Excalibur either for the same reason.

DavidZornig on December 24, 2010 at 8:03 am

There is a local group that offers Haunted Chicago tours of some sort. Might even be called that.
I know that the former Iroquois site & the original Chicago Historical Society (later Limelight/now Excalibur), is on their tour. The latter being where bodies were brought after the Eastland disaster.

JudithK on December 23, 2010 at 8:38 pm

When the open house was held after the rehab in the 1990s attendees were not allowed backstage or in the orchestra pit (we were allowed in most of the public areas), so I can’t add anything about it.

Concerning hauntings, or “hauntings” at the Oriental Theatre/Ford Center for the Performing Arts, usually a news piece or radio spot will pop up about the alleyway in back of the Theatre being the spot of ghostly activity over the years (they usually are broadcast or written about around Halloween). You may wish to check the archives of the Chicago Tribune or Chicago Sun-Times on that story.

The stories are good enough for me – I stay out of that alleyway just in case.

Jayne1955 on December 23, 2010 at 8:03 pm

Am writing a paper on fires that led to changes in fire codes, and of course must include Iroquois Theater and Our Lady of the Angels school, both in Chicago. Re: Iroquois Theatre, I spoke to someone in THS who insisted that remains of the charred south and west stage walls still existed until the 1970’s. Can anyone confirm that? Was also told that the manager at the time (Mickey Gold) believed the Oriental was haunted.

JudithK on June 2, 2010 at 4:56 pm

Considering this theatre – and its predecessors' – tragic histories, this theatre has to be haunted!

JudithK on June 2, 2010 at 4:51 pm

I take it back – I was in the lobby of the Oriental/Ford Center for the Performing Arts on a first-day-of-ticket-promotion for “Ragtime” where I received all sorts of gifts for attending. The lobby/ticketing area was ornately carved wood (or so it appeared), no coloring, very aged-looking. Unless it was utilized elsewhere, I don’t remember seeing it again once the rehab job was completed.

meclaudius on June 2, 2010 at 7:34 am

I went to see “Billy Elliot” last night. Great show if anyone is wondering. It’s the third time I’ve seen a show at the Oriental.

To those who were in the theatre pre and post-renovation, how different is the interior? The decor is way over-the-top. I mean, it almost hurts to look at there’s so much to take in. But, some of the carvings look like they’re not plaster but moulded resin or plastic like they would make a theme park set out of. Was a lot of the ornamentation damaged/destroyed over the years? How much of what’s there now is reproduction and how much is original?

TLSLOEWS on May 19, 2010 at 5:06 pm

Nice photo Bryan.

JudithK on May 19, 2010 at 4:37 pm

Yes, I remember what the streets looked like very well. I never got into the Woods (same security and booking issues as the Oriental in that era; for the same reason I never got into the Roosevelt, but did visit the State-Lake in its decline to see “Saturday Night Fever”. Lots of Chicago’s homeless and troubled people I believe stayed in the State-Lake as long as they were open) but I did get into the United Artists twice (once for “Funny Girl” and the other “Cabaret”. The UA was in pretty good shape when a friend and I saw the latter film (I think it was an Art Deco design) but I will have to check elsewhere on this site.

JudithK on May 15, 2010 at 5:31 pm

I never entered the Oriental Theatre (now the Ford Center for the Performing Arts) due to its reputation, history and movie bookings (my first memory of an Oriental Theatre booking was “The Premature Burial” with Ray Milland. When Livent bought it and put enormous sums of money and effort into its renovation I was delighted, and finally got in the place when an open house was held before the musical “Ragtime” opened and I finally did get into the theatre. The decor is way over the top! Decor aside, it’s a very good place to see touring shows – besides “Ragtime” I saw “Fosse” at the Ford Center/Oriental, and hope to see another show in the future.

DavidZornig on December 13, 2009 at 10:29 am

FYI to all. The “Remembering Chicago” series is back in rotation on WTTW/PBS Channel 11 currently. Lots of glimpses of dowtown theatre footage from long ago. And references to the live shows that would follow the films at many.
Benny Goodman, Stooges, Les Brown etc.

Soupy219 on December 13, 2009 at 9:39 am

I was in Chicago yesterday and took a tour of the Oriental Theatre. WOW what a thing to do for $10 you see two theatres in two hours. We also saw the Cadillac Theatre.

We were told a story that when they had early shows there they would sometimes have live acts come in to play and had the Andrew Sisters there. Well something happened where they did not or could not make an engagement there so, the bosses of the Oriental called around for a replacement girl singing act and got the Gumm Sisters for the day borrowed from the Belmont Theatre 1600 block W. Belmont ( I used to bowl there as a child).. There were four Gumm sisters and the youngest was Judy. A New York agent was in the crowd that day they filled in and talked to the Gumm sisters since there name was misspelled GLUMM on the marquee. He told them that they had a chance to make and were talented but needed to change their name so they can avoid this misspelling issues again. He recommended Garland …….that’s right Judy Garland from the Wizard of Oz â€" neat piece of history. I highly recommend this tour.

DavidZornig on December 10, 2009 at 8:15 pm

I remember when this aired. It should be posted over on the Colonial/Iroquois page too.
I posted in Nov. 2008, a story of a woman who used to always walk around that site in “Widow’s Weeds”, when my grandmother was a child. Some type of mourning veils.

Tim O'Neill
Tim O'Neill on November 2, 2009 at 10:10 am

To ken mc: In regards to the photo posted on April 25, 2009: I think the year of “1972” is inaccuate. M&R was operating the theatre in 1972 and I seem to reacall that they had their logo situated on the front top of the marquee. I have a feeling that picture was taken in 1977; that’s the year Stan Kohlberg took over the theatre. September, 1977 to be exact. Also, I want to clarify something I said up above. When I said that “hardly anything got done” what I meant was hardly any repairs were done to the balcony area. They just pretty much left the damaged scene as it was.

Tim O'Neill
Tim O'Neill on November 2, 2009 at 9:56 am

If my memory serves me correctly, the Oriental closed after the first weekend of the New Year in 1981. I guess Kohlberg wanted that final Christmas gang-banger business. I would have to go to the Harold Washington 3rd floor microfilm room to confirm this. I do have a December 19, 1980 Chicago Sun-Times and the Oriental is advertising the usual kung-fu triple feature for $1.75. I remember June 4, 1978. The lobby in the balcony caught on fire on this busy Sunday night. I guess somebody was careless with their cigarettes in an ashtray with pieces of cardboard cup mixed in. (keep in mind, kids, this was back in the day when smoking was allowed in the lobby) Well, anyway, smoke engulfed the theatre and everyone rushed out. I remember one of the movies being DEATH SPORT with David Carradine; I can’t remember what the other two were. Well, anyway, outside of the theatre, people were demanding their $1.75 refund, and when the cashier walked away from the box-office, woah milly, the patrons got really angry. According the the Sun-Times, there must have been 2000 people there that night, or, at least, that’s what I seem to recall reading. A few days later Kohlberg reopened the place. One year later, Mayor Jane Byrne was holding a meeting with citizens and this lovely African American woman stood up and asked Mayor Byrne if there’s anything can be done about the rat problems in the downtown movie houses. Mayor Byrne said something will be done “tomorrow.” The next day, city hall officials made surprise appearances at the downtown movie houses and Gene Siskel and Channel 2 camera crew came with him. They uncovered the fact that hardly anything got done to the lobby area of the Oriental' balcony after the fire the previous year. If anyone can get a hold of the videotape of Siskel’s report please post it. I seem to recall that it happend in June, 1979, maybe July. One last footnote: Stan Kohlberg did try to take over the Loop Theatre after it closed. I don’t know why it never happened, but considering that Kohlberg also ran the nearby McVickers, Shangri-La, and Oriental, I think it’s pretty self-explanatory.—-Tim O'Neill

Broan on November 2, 2009 at 9:25 am

“The Oriental closed in December, 1980 following a rise in gang violence. The final operators were Kohlberg Theaters, decendants of which continue to operate the Cascade Drive-In. The theater was originally to have been converted to a two-story shopping mall with 5 stories of the original theater above as a theater-in-the-round.
posted by BWChicago on Feb 13, 2006 at 3:58am”

M&R was the previous operator.

Paul Fortini
Paul Fortini on November 2, 2009 at 9:09 am

Regarding the description above, Kohlberg Theatres is shown as the last operator of the Oriental. I thought the Oriental was part of the M&R Theatre chain.

missmelbatoast on July 24, 2009 at 10:43 am

These 1946 images come courtesy of LIFE …
View link
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kencmcintyre on May 7, 2009 at 3:02 pm

Here is a 1946 photo from Life magazine:

kencmcintyre on May 2, 2009 at 3:02 pm

This is from the Trib. Not sure if it has been posted before.