Ford Center for the Performing Arts Oriental Theatre

24 W. Randolph Street,
Chicago, IL 60601

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JimRankin
JimRankin on June 19, 2006 at 6:16 pm

The “open bulb” type of sign that Brian refers to is called a SKELETON sign, and was quite popular for its big impact and lower cost. Incandescent versions were most common, but neon versions also existed, especially in the less storm and ice prone areas.

As to why it seemed so redundant in multiple wordings, remember the tenor of times: the Second world War was over and the country was newly flush with money, materials for bigger signs, and the guys back from the war to make and install these things. Sign companies saw it as a bonanza for them as they would usually give a prominent palace a sweet dealm to ‘upgrade’ its signage so that their salesmen could flash new color photos of the newness to owners/operators of other theatres and claim the palace had increased its gate by some mythical percentage as a result of the new, larger, brighter signs attracting the eye of the passerby.

One must also remember that automobile ownership ballooned after the war and so passerbys were now often speeding by, so it took a bigger spectacle to assure they would see an exhibitor’s sign amid the clutter of many other new, larger signs of all businesses. This competition for always bigger and brighter got so extreme that social standards groups started campaigns to return to “sane” non-garish signage, and politicians who sensed the change in the wind of public acceptance, lost no time in enacting leglislation to limit the size and character of signs, and it was the theatre Vertical that was the most conspicuous and therefore often the first to go.

By the end of the Sixties, the country’s moral climate changed from the moral and conservative of the war years, to the permissive and amoral. Sign restrictions were seen as part of the old Blue Laws and were repealed — or simply unenforced — across the land. The psychedelic era arrived along with strobe lights, so bright lights were hip again and who would restrain trade? Some places will now accept Verticals, some won’t in the typical patchwork quilt of laws in this country. Read back issues of “Signs Of The Times” magazine for articles.

CHICTH74
CHICTH74 on June 19, 2006 at 5:30 pm

Thank You for that information :)

Also i will have to agree with you on the current marquee, i will have to look at the vertical sign closer next time i am by the Orential Thanks for you time.

Broan
Broan on June 19, 2006 at 1:28 pm

One thing i’ve never quite understood is why the Oriental’s marquee was replaced with a virtually identical model in the 50s. For reference, Here is the original marquee, and Here is the replacement. As visible in the 1932 picture, the ugly open-bulb sign over the window had been added quite early and there was a great redundancy with the same information on the vertical sign, attraction sign, and marquee. I think the current marquee captures the essence of the original pretty well. It also looks to me like the vertical sign is positioned a bit differently from the original.

JimRankin
JimRankin on June 19, 2006 at 12:39 pm

The sign that you inquire about, is properly called the VERTICAL SIGN (the MARQUEE below it consists of a Canopy surrounded by some sort of Attraction Boards with the changeable letters for the current attraction, with the theatre’s Name Sign and often ornaments atop it). The Vertical Signs were often the first to go for a variety of reasons:
1) Change of name of theatre or ownership
2) Damage to expensive sign as by lightning
3) Changes to building necessitating removal
4) The “modernization” programs in many cities, especially in the 1950s when owners were persuaded by firms offering such as sheet alluminum and plexiglas that a theatre must look new and ‘with it’ to compete with new cinemas then being built.
5) Maintenance costs that involved often replacing hundreds of light bulbs, scraping rust and repainting by specialists well paid for hanging in a bosun’s seat at that height!
9) Feared physical damage as during the Second World War when the nation was in a mass fear over possible bombings and consequent falling signs, along with that perennial fear in earthquake-prone areas — and the resultant repair expenses and liability litigation.
10) The restrictions upon repair materials during the War years, and the elimination of certain neon colors in the 50s which made authentic repairs impossible in some cases.
11) The progressive change of politics which encouraged demolition of such signs by taxing them.

The Theatre Historical Society has many photos of the removal of the Vertical Signs but it is often difficult to know the actual combination of reasons in any one case. In many cities it is now illegal to re-construct such Vertical Signs, so exciting though they were, there is little hope of returning them in most cases.

CHICTH74
CHICTH74 on June 19, 2006 at 8:55 am

Can any one tell me why the sign that runs up the side of the bulding was removed? Was this becuse of WW2 or becuse it was falling apart?
Also can any one tell me when it was removed?
If you click on the link posted above then go down to the bottom you will see pitctures from 1920? and others from 1970? showing the diferance. thank you for you time . and thank you fore the link to the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency`s HAARGIS System.:)

Broan
Broan on June 17, 2006 at 3:07 pm

Here is a profile from the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency’s HAARGIS system. It includes small pictures. Here is another.

Broan
Broan on June 17, 2006 at 7:22 am

The facade doesn’t look like the Iroquois in any way, shape, or form. View link
Any architect building a theater on the site of the deadliest theater fire (which occured just after it had opened) would have to be an idiot to remind people of the horrible tragedy, lest the audience fear becoming victims themselves.

Doug4422
Doug4422 on June 16, 2006 at 5:48 pm

To echo what was said above, the Oriental theater’s facade was MODELED after the Iriquois, but it IS NOT the one from the Iriqouis, it was demolished when the original building came down in 1921.

CHICTH74
CHICTH74 on June 9, 2006 at 9:11 pm

Yes, it just did the news reported that the owners of the offices did not want it to be opened for fears that the smell of the popcorn would upset the flow of the work day. And that if the store got the O.K. that no one would be doing their job,that thay would be thinking about the popcorn and not the work. But i think that the County were the ones thet said OK and now the store is opened.

Thank You for the information that is ware i thought it was but i was not sure. Thanks Again!!

Broan
Broan on June 9, 2006 at 6:18 pm

I wasn’t aware Garrett’s had opened. It’s ground-floor retail, next to the office buiding entrance.

CHICTH74
CHICTH74 on June 9, 2006 at 6:15 pm

Can any one explane to me whare the Garrets Popcorn Store is at ?
The news reported that it was in the Orential, my question is…
whare is it, is in the acutal theatre or has it opened in the office part of the Orential Buld.If any one knows please post the answer
Thank you.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on May 7, 2006 at 4:20 pm

Brian is correct. The Iroquois building was torn down.

Imagine how weird it would have been to see a show at Hyde & Beman’s knowing that a disaster took place within the building. Very weird, remodeling or not.

Broan
Broan on May 7, 2006 at 3:41 pm

No, it isn’t. There is nothing of the Iroquois. The Iroquois, after the fire, was remodeled into Hyde and Beman’s Music Hall and shortly thereafter became the Colonial Theater, which it remained until the Oriental was built. The Iroquois was not nearly as big as the Oriental.

vinaknight
vinaknight on May 7, 2006 at 2:58 pm

The internal skeleton of the Oriental is the original Iroquois. Nothing from the facade is from the Iroquois. There was no structural damage from the fire. It was all cosmetic. Which makes the loss of all of those lives even more tragic. The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 claimed much less loss of life than the Iroquois disaster.

Broan
Broan on April 21, 2006 at 4:15 am

I never noticed this before, but the Oriental’s vertical sign is in the background of the Norman Rockwell painting The Clock Mender.

Also, the Oriental was acquired by M&R in about 1967.

Broan
Broan on April 14, 2006 at 5:54 am

Here are a few more photos of the exterior:
123

William
William on March 29, 2006 at 2:35 pm

The Oriental Theatre opened on May 8th. 1926.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on March 29, 2006 at 12:53 pm

I thought this caption on an Oriental Theatre photo found on the Internet today says it all:

“There was so much bling inside the theatre I didn’t know what to photograph next.”

Broan
Broan on February 28, 2006 at 6:01 pm

The original stage was said to be very innovative; an opening day article in the Tribune says, “A new feature in theater construction is introduced in the revolving stage, which allows one act to be in progress while two others are in preparation behind the scenes, the stage itself moving up, down, or sideways under motor power directed by a controller.” Incidentally, the restoration did not actually retain the original colors, opting instead for a more subdued version; however, the bright, jewel-like colors were consistently touted as one of the more interesting features of the theater upon its original opening.

CHICTH74
CHICTH74 on February 22, 2006 at 4:25 pm

Thank You, now i understand now it makes sence.
I wish that all of the theatres that were in this area were sitll there. Good thing that we still have the Orential and the palace.
Thank You for your time.

Broan
Broan on February 22, 2006 at 12:08 pm

Also, photos of most of these from the THSA archives can be seen at the Corner Bakery location on the site

Broan
Broan on February 22, 2006 at 12:08 pm

The Randolph was directly next to the Iroquois. For many years later, it was the site of the Old Heidelberg German restaurant. About 10 years ago, the property was redeveloped and the site is presently an Argo Tea. It had been the Noble Fool Theater for a couple years. The Apollo was the theater directly next to the Garrick. The site was redeveloped in the 1950s into a Greyhound Depot, which, along with the Garrick site, is now part of the Chicago Title and Trust center. The RKO Grand was on the site of Daley Plaza.

CHICTH74
CHICTH74 on February 22, 2006 at 11:52 am

Thank You For the information, can you tell me if their were any other theatres by the Garrick on the sight of the Goodman complex.
I know that the Woods was on the corner and the harris/selwyn are in the back and that the Garrick was on Randolph was their another theatre i think the adress is somtihing like 74 w Randolph? Also,the Randolph is their a Boarders book store on the spot now? Thank You for your time.

Broan
Broan on February 22, 2006 at 4:42 am

Before the Heidelberg, there was a theatre called Randolph, besides that, there were the Apollo, RKO Grand, and the Palace.

CHICTH74
CHICTH74 on February 21, 2006 at 8:16 pm

Can any one tell me what other theatres were around the Orental other then the Chicago Theatre the ones the i recall are : State/Lake
Roosevelt, The UA, Woods,Loop,Selwlyn,Harris,Garrick. Are their any others that i am forgetting? Thank You for your time on this question.