Ford Center for the Performing Arts Oriental Theatre

24 West Randolph Street,
Chicago, IL 60601

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Showing 26 - 50 of 175 comments

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.

jwballer on January 28, 2010 at 5:08 pm

A 4/20 Wurlitzer Publix 1 was installed in the theatre in 1926

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
View link

Bruce C.
Bruce C. on June 30, 2009 at 7:55 am

Here are a couple of my pictures of the Oriental:

View link
View link

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.

DavidZornig on May 2, 2009 at 3:00 pm

Great picture. This is a little off topic, but I’d completely forgotten about Hargrave’s Secret Service. The large neon with the eagle to the East of the Oriental. They had several other locations around Chicago.
One was over near Superior & Franklin as I recall. Some of those signs hung on buildings long after Hargrave’s had vacated.
I think it was some type of detective & guard agency that accompanied various businesses to banks with their deposits.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on May 1, 2009 at 11:47 am

In BW Chicago’s 1975 photo the price of that steak is $1.29.

kencmcintyre on May 1, 2009 at 10:56 am

I like the $2.99 steak next door.

JRS40 on May 1, 2009 at 10:46 am

Actually this pic has to be from the late 70’s. The Oriental didn’t stop using the front of the marquee until late in its life. Plus if you look at my booking list above this is not playing in 1972.

DavidZornig on April 14, 2009 at 9:30 pm

Reactivate Notification Status.