Ford Center for the Performing Arts Oriental Theatre

24 West Randolph Street,
Chicago, IL 60601

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Showing 151 - 175 of 180 comments

Broan on February 17, 2006 at 10:20 am

CHI74: A 1996 article in the Tribune about a certain architectural salvage firm in Chicago, Ziggurat (I don’t think they exist anymore) mentions that they had the elephant chairs. They exist, somewhere. I’m surprised they weren’t acquired by the Oriental, since the restoration was occuring then. Maybe they were removed DURING the restoration? That would seem odd, but considering the timeframe…

Broan on February 17, 2006 at 9:12 am

tivoli: You are looking for the Oakland Square Theatre

73impala on February 17, 2006 at 8:14 am

Does anyone have any info on the former theatre at 3947 S.Drexel in Chicago?I know it was associated with the El Rukn street gang in the 80’s and it is no longer there but thats all I know about it.

Paul Fortini
Paul Fortini on February 13, 2006 at 11:14 am

Per BW’s comment above, it would have been, well, interesting to see how they might have pulled off that “Shopping Mall/Theatre-In-The-Round” scheme. Per my posts under the Roosevelt Theatre, the Oriental/Ford Center and the Cadillac Palace and the Goodman were all in a zone designated to be re-developed, i.e. “obliterated.” The Goodman uses the facades of the Harris/Selwyn a.k.a. Michael Todd/Cinestage a.k.a. Dearborn Cinemas and the Oriental and Cadillac Palace are restorations.

It is good that the North Loop Redevelopment Plan did not go thru. The City of Chicago has discovered that there is room for the performing arts in this area. Theatre is alive and well in these former cinemas and many of the patrons eat at nearby restaurants or stop for a drink afterwards. This would not happen if the proposed office buildings had gone in and it shows the economic benefits of having a busy theatre district.

Before these theatres (and the Chicago Theatre) were restored, most Broadway Plays went to the Arie Crown Theatre, located in McCormick Place. The Arie Crown had the worst acoustics and sightlines of any theatre (this is not an exaggeration—true theatre lovers hated the place) and offered no economic benefit because afterwards, people usually got in their cars and went home.

Broan on February 13, 2006 at 6:58 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.

JimRankin on February 12, 2006 at 10:18 am

It is wonderful to hear that the ORIENTAL is back and flourishing again. It is a pity that they didn’t have the original House Curtain restored along with the rest of the auditorium draperies, for they contributed so much to the “hashish dream decor” as it was called by the late Ben Hall in his Landmark book of 1961, “The Best Remaining Seats.” Of course, the estimated cost of over a million dollars in today’s dollars was probably enough to put that idea to rest!

CHICTH74 on February 11, 2006 at 5:09 pm

Thay did a GREAT job bring back the Orential there were some up grades but over all it looks like it did the day that it opened one thing that i recall that is missing the “Elephant Chairs” in the main lobby. The first show to open at the Ford center for the Preforming Arts Oriential Theatre was “Ragtime”. In order to convert the stage from movie to “live theatre” thay had to take out some of the back of the bulding and reconfig it, thay did a wonderfull job.
Also toward the end of the Orential i think it was back in the 80`s or something like that there was a fire in the balc. But that is in the past and now along with the Chicago,Palace,and Goodman theatres this part of the city is once agan geting back to the way that it was.

TheatreBoy on February 10, 2006 at 1:22 am

In reference to the organ. CATOE does own the 4/20 Wurlitzer, and yes, some pipework was stolen when the instrument was stored in a particular building. The console has been restored, and pneumatic stop-action has been replaced with electric action. All pipework is replacable with WurliTzer pipework. Once CATOE has the keyboard rebuilding completed, the console will be put on display in the Grande Hallway of the Theatre. Once there is sufficiant finacial support and Grants, CATOE will reinstall the WurliTzer in its home.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on January 11, 2006 at 3:20 pm

I was lucky enough to draw jury duty today (yes, that is sarcasm). I walked by the Ford Center on my way to eat lunch. It was great to see a long line of people waiting to buy tickets for the latest musical (called Wicked). The line was just as long when I walked back to the Daley Center after lunch (and on my way to the subway at the end of the day). It was also great to see the lobby brightly lit and full of activity. They have installed green light bulbs in the marquee and painted parts of the marquee green to match the marketing materials for the show (similar to the enthusiasm I have seen displayed in old pictures of big movie premiers). Some have argued with aspects of the restoration. But I find it difficult to entertain such a discussion when I compare today’s memories to the the recollections I have of walking by the dingy Oriental Electronics store that occupied the lobby in the mid 80’s.

jwarren on September 15, 2005 at 5:54 am

The 4/20 Oriental Wurlitzer was removed by CATOE during the summer months of 1983. In the fall of that year, the instrument was officailly presented to CATOE by Oriental Theatre owner Morrie Kalish during a CATOE show at the Chicago Theatre with the Oriental console on stage!

imrichardanton on September 14, 2005 at 10:24 pm

My understanding is that the theater organ was removed during the 1996-8 renovation by CATOE (Chicago Area Theatre Organ Enthusiasts) and is in their storage. The organ is not currently operable, due to some lost and/or damaged parts, but CATOE hopes to one day get it fully restored and operating.

I haven’t read David Naylor’s book, but I have read stories that B&K insisted on an Oriental design, an idea the Rapp Bros. weren’t thrilled with, and to show their displeasure (and exact their revenge), went over the top with their design in the Oriental Theatre. (Also, I’ve read they never used an oriental theme again.) But, on the other hand, I’ve also read that it was the Rapp Bros. who wanted the oriental theme, and had to struggle to win over B&K with their idea. I think I’m starting to believe the former is true … but, who knows, for sure?!

I haven’t seen the photo of the lobby chandelier referred to above, but the foyer center chandelier is missing, and, from what I’ve read/heard, interestingly, it was a chandelier that was not designed by the craftsmen who regularly worked with B&K/Rapp Bros.

Broan on July 28, 2005 at 9:28 am

Here is a wide view of the Masonic Temple from the Detroit Publishing collection. In the foreground, where Marshall Field’s now stands, is the Adler & Sullivan-designed Central Music Hall, their first design together and one of the city’s largest theaters. This is captioned as a hall in the Temple; perhaps this is the theater. If not, it was likely similar in appearance.

73impala on July 28, 2005 at 9:21 am

Thanks for all the photos and info on the loop theatres.Your hard work and dedication are appreciated!!!

73impala on July 28, 2005 at 8:32 am

Thanks Brian
Any idea where I could look for photos of this building?

73impala on July 26, 2005 at 9:13 am

Does anyone have any info on the theatre located in the Masonic Temple at State and Randolph Chicago IL:Demolished 1939?What was the name of the theatre?and what could possibly have been the reason for the destruction of this historic building

Broan on June 28, 2005 at 10:57 am

The correct link for my above comment is here

Broan on June 28, 2005 at 10:55 am

Some 1953 views of the Oriental and several other loop theatres are available at Real Chicago: Chicago in the Fifties. I believe the current marquee is essentially modeled after this one. Recently, due to the open-ended run of Wicked there, the marquee bulbs have been replaced by green ones! It’s a neat effect, cute.

Broan on March 1, 2005 at 10:44 am

Some interior photos and restoration information are available at View link

JohnSanchez on February 23, 2005 at 5:20 pm

The Oriental was one of the most popular palaces in the Loop in the 60’s and early 70’s. It was home to the Chicago premiere of “Airport” in 1970 and it played almost three months. In 1971 the Oriental opened “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassss Song” and from then on things changed for the Oriental. The theater got the stigma of playing only to African American audiences (much like the Roosevelt) and whites stayed away in droves. Naturally to continue to earn a profit the Oriental had no choice but to play blaxploitation and kung-fu films for its audience. Two of the theaters biggest hits in the 70’s were “Return of the Dragon” and “J.D.’s Revenge”. By 1978 the Oriental had been relegated to a second and sometimes third run palace that showed 3 films and changed every week. In 1981 gangs started fighting in the theater claiming the Oriental was their home turf. Eventually the owners had enough and it was shuttered. Having been there since it re-opened (I saw the stage productions of “Ragtime” and “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” with Ann-Margret) I am pleased to say the theater is probably as beautiful as it ever was. Too bad other theaters like the United Artists, Woods, Roosevelt, and State Lake could not be salvaged as well.

JimRankin on February 23, 2005 at 6:22 am

I heard it said that the lobby chandelier shown on page 101 of Naylor’s book had fallen years ago. Was there any attempt to reproduce it in the Ford Center?

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on January 13, 2005 at 11:29 pm

“Ford Center for the Performing Arts Oriental Theater” is a very awkward name.

What do everyday Chicagoans call it? Is it still “the Oriental” in ordinary conversation? What do newspapers call it?

fisherla on December 12, 2004 at 4:40 pm

I will be attending the Ford Center for Performing Arts/Oriental soon and was wondering what the appropriate dress attire would be. Any and all help you can give me would be appreciated!

Ziggy on September 22, 2004 at 10:05 am

A quick addendum: Naylor’s book also has one photo of the Paradise in Chicago indentified as “Loew’s Paradise in Chicago”, when, in fact, it was a B&K house. I don’t think Loew’s had a single theatre in Chicago at all. Another reference to my above comment: when I mentioned the opportunistic couple who bought the chandelier out of Loew’s State and then purposely destroyed it, I should have correctly identified them as a couple of @#%$@***@#% !!!!!

Ziggy on September 21, 2004 at 9:16 pm

I personally don’t put any store in the anecdotes in David Naylor’s book. He doesn’t seem to have researched things very thoroughly. For example, he stated that the Fox in San Francisco was the only theatre to have an organ in its lobby. Well, that would be true if one overlooks the Roxy, and (I think) the Fox in Detroit. He also stated that the Tiffany chandelier in the Loew’s State, Syracuse was missing because it was removed during WWII due to misplaced concern regarding its fall in case of a bombing attack. In actuality the chandelier hung there until the 1970’s (I’ve seen it), when it was sold to a couple who purposely broke it up to sell it piece by piece. Mr. Naylor’s book is full of great photos, but as a source of information I don’t put a lot of stock in it.

Broan on September 15, 2004 at 1:19 am

Research the Iroquois theater. You’ll find a lot of information about it, I guarantee you. The Oriental was built on the same site.