Ford Center for the Performing Arts Oriental Theatre

24 W. Randolph Street,
Chicago, IL 60601

Unfavorite 40 people favorited this theater

Showing 151 - 175 of 183 comments

Fredrickr on February 18, 2006 at 4:00 pm

Let me update a couple of things, in the photo of the Masonic Temple Building and the Delaware Building, posted on 11/13/03 by Brian Krefft, the Delaware Building origianlly extended one window bay to the east. The Iroquois theater was then next to the Delaware. The Delaware lost that window bay when the Masonic Temple was built. Second, when the Oriental Theater was renovated in the 1990’s the stagehouse was expanded into the old Oliver Typewriter Building, which was behind the Oriental Theater and just to the north of the Delaware Building. Most of the Oliver Typewriter building was destroyed, the cast-iron facade was retained. Lastly, the chandliers that are currently in the lobby of the Oriental originally hung in front of the organ screens in the auditorium. During the Oriental’s renovation, I was working very near to the theater and used to sneak into the building during my lunch hour. (And usually got caught and ‘asked’ to leave.)

CHICTH74 on February 18, 2006 at 8:55 am

Bryan Krefft: That is a very good pic of the Orential thay did something like that for “Ragtime” also i think that thay are going to do that for any long running show.

CHICTH74 on February 17, 2006 at 2:25 pm

Bryan Krefft:Thank you for the information i did not know what happened to them. I was part of the FOH crew that took over when livevent reopened the Oriental i was there when thay were in the middle of it i was there for the first run of “Ragtime”,the uniforms that were worn the “first time Out” did not look like thay do now and thay did not look like the “Arabian Night`s” inspired back when it was opened for the first time. The uniforms that we used oddley enuf looked something like the uniforms that the UA personell wore. There were some better upgrades like the doors to the aisles are now controled by remote control when the show starts if the usher is busy and can not get to the door a controll room operator can close them.Not to mention the very useful intercom system.Thank You for your time and information.

Broan on February 17, 2006 at 7:20 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 6:12 am

tivoli: You are looking for the Oakland Square Theatre

73impala on February 17, 2006 at 5:14 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 8:14 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 3:58 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 7:18 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 2:09 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 9, 2006 at 10:22 pm

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 12:20 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 2:54 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 7:24 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 6:28 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 6:21 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 5:32 am

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

73impala on July 26, 2005 at 6:13 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 7:57 am

The correct link for my above comment is here

Broan on June 28, 2005 at 7:55 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 7:44 am

Some interior photos and restoration information are available at View link

JohnSanchez on February 23, 2005 at 2:20 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 3:22 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 8:29 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 1:40 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!