Chicago Theatre

175 N. State Street,
Chicago, IL 60601

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Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on August 25, 2006 at 12:38 pm


Not really. That is a pretty cool story about the Chrysler Building.

brenograph on August 25, 2006 at 9:59 am

I can’t find a way to convincingly tie this into the current thread, and so request your kind indulgence in this small clarification of sam_e’s mention of the Chrysler Building’s spire lighting: Although architect William Van Alen’s original plans called for such a scheme, they were never installed and ultimately forgotten for decades. It wasn’t until the late 70’s, as lore and legend have it, that the actual plans were rediscovered in a closet. The owner, quite inexplicibly since the rest of the building was left to decay and neglect, had it manufactured and installed and in 1981 the spire crown lights (DecoTubeStuds?) were lit for the very first time.
‘Nuf said – back to the Chicago…

JimRankin on August 25, 2006 at 5:11 am

“Sam_e” is quite right about Stud Lighting. The CHICAGO did/does have a wonderful display of it, and it is so called regardless of the material they are set into. As everyone surmises, they are very difficult and expensive to maintain, since not only is relamping access difficult, but in many cases the insulation on the wires has decayed and was threaded through or behind terra cotta castings and has now corroded away and must be replaced to keep new bulbs lit. In many cases this means chipping the terra cotta or brick away and removing it for access — one hopes with few pieces broken in the process! The costs for this are very high, as you can imagine! Sometimes the use of modern electronic LED cluster bulbs will allow them to use the original copper or brass sockets, if the metal is not too badly corroded, but even so, such LED bulbs with very long lifespan can apoproach $20 EACH in price, not to mention labor.

The CHICAGO’s Stud Lighting has always been there, and close observation will reveal it on many a theatre — if only as plastered over blobs as was once the case on Milwaukee’s long gone EAST Theatre. With today’s technology, many new buildings are going for ribbons or bands of color-changing LEDs for their theoritical multi-hundred year life, but others are using new, modern Neon with long lifespan to achieve a greater brilliance, but it is doubtful that such provisions would bring back the glitter of our movie palaces, sad to say. There is some hope of rewiring with new Low Voltage systems that do not require the removal of the original mains voltage (~115 volt) wiring (which is then disconnected), but such installations are quite expensive, so don’t look for routine restoration of stud lighting when some can barely afford to keep the marquee lit.

PGlenat on August 25, 2006 at 4:09 am

I believe the term used for that type of lighting is called “stud lighting”. I’ll let resident expert Jim Rankin correct me if I got it wrong. There are many examples of exterior decorative lighting that has been restored after many years of being dark. e.g. The concealed lighting in the arches at the top of the Chrysler building in NY was “discovered' and lit for the first time a number of years ago. Apparently the wiring and fixtures had been installed, but never used, during the original construction. In some cases exterior lighting was subject to blackouts during WWII so that metropolitan areas were not easily discernible in the event of a possible enemy air raid. Afterwards, for various reasons it was never restored to operating condition. More recently the practice of enhancing architectural details with decorative lighting at night has increased. Possibly another CT member knows if the lighting on the Chicago was always there or has since been added. With the advancements in lighting technology today the lamps are probably long lasting and not subject to frequent replacement.

LYNNMICHALI on August 25, 2006 at 3:57 am

I have always loved the Chicago. I remember going on a double date on Valentine’s Day with my friends. We went to Bob Elfman’s for corned beef first. The movie we saw was “The Towering Inferno”. When the show was over we came out of the auditorium, looked through those glass doors and saw one of the worst snow storms ever.

Ret. AKC (NAC) CCC Bob Jensen, Manteno, Illinois
Ret. AKC (NAC) CCC Bob Jensen, Manteno, Illinois on August 25, 2006 at 3:34 am

Up about 8 posts, on August 20th is a nice night view of the Chicago Theatre. Those lights they have restored in the terra cotta really look nice (but what a pain to replace a bulb!). Anyway, is there a name or what is it called when a system of lights is built into the terra cotta? Also, I had noticed those bulbs in the building never lite way back in the early 1960’s. To get them lite again after perhaps at least 50 years, I would guess they would have had to do some rewiring and such, how can they do that? Most folks, I bet, never noticed those blackened bulbs (I’ve seen them at other theatres too), but, it looks great and kudos to the theatre for getting them lite, I really never expected them to do that!

Broan on August 23, 2006 at 3:53 pm

A November 12, 1919 Mae Tinee article in the Tribune stated: “Balaban and Katz’s downtown theater will be called The Capitol, for the readon that it is to be the largest if any of their theaters and will be their executive headquarters. This theater is to be located on the east side of State street between Lake and Randolph streets. Building operations will begin early in the spring when the existing leases expire.” A July 4, 1920 ad for bonds shows a drawing of the Chicago with the name Ambassador, which persisted until at least December. In April, 1920, the Harris and Selwyn were announced (as Rapp & Rapp designs which weren’t built, but still with the near-twin theme). At the time, they were to be called the Chicago and Selwyn. By January 1921 they had recieved the Harris and Selwyn names, freeing the Chicago name.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on August 23, 2006 at 2:04 pm

I cannot testify to the Ambassador name being in play. But I have copies of the Chicago Theatre blue prints that were used to construct the building hanging in my home. If I look up now from this laptop I am staring directly at the name CAPITOL in the lower right-hand corner of drawing number 10 (exterior elevations). For anyone who cares to know it was job number 19-15.

JimRankin on August 22, 2006 at 11:44 pm

In its 1981 ANNUAL, titled “The Chicago Theatre” there is an article on page 5 “The name Chicago” wherein is acknowledged that various working drawings and renderings did bear both the names Capitol as well as Ambassador and explains the common practice of changing planned names for a theatre before opening day. There is also a brief history of the previous theatres that bore or were to bear the name CHICAGO. Unfortunately, that ANNUAL is out-of-print, but it may be within the collections of those libraries which have their “Marquee” magazine that far back. (see: )

Ret. AKC (NAC) CCC Bob Jensen, Manteno, Illinois
Ret. AKC (NAC) CCC Bob Jensen, Manteno, Illinois on August 22, 2006 at 5:36 pm

Also the Ambassador Theatre? From the 2006 book THE CHICAGO MOVIE PALACES OF BALABAN AND KATZ by David Balaban, page 51. On talking about the Chicago Theatre, “Originally called the Ambassador Theatre before its completion”??

CHICTH74 on August 22, 2006 at 5:12 pm

Thank you for the conformation. and thany you for your time :)

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on August 22, 2006 at 4:45 pm

100% true. Original blueprints were created under name of Capitol.

CHICTH74 on August 22, 2006 at 4:38 pm

Is it true that the Chicago Theatre started out as the “Capitol"theatre and if so when was is changed to Chicago?
Thank You for your halp on the issue. :)

Broan on August 20, 2006 at 11:25 am

Here is a late 40s view. Here is an early 60s view.

Will Dunklin
Will Dunklin on July 11, 2006 at 9:54 am

Charrio, if you’ll click on my name below, you’ll find my e-mail link under “contact info”. I may have some info for you.

JimRankin on July 3, 2006 at 11:46 am

If no one else knows, contact the Theatre Historical Society of America which is headquarted outside of Chicago in Elmhurst at:

toncon on July 3, 2006 at 10:03 am

re Chicago Theatre, circa 1955 — I have three questions.
Does anyone know: (1) How many steps led up to the stage from the auditorium floor? (2) Was the railing surrounding the orchestra pit made of wood, or iron, or…? (3) Backstage, where was a major stage-star’s dressing room — 1st floor, or 2nd, or 3rd, or…? I hope someone can help. Thanks.

CHICTH74 on June 21, 2006 at 10:12 pm

The Channel 7 ABC reported that the Chicago is getting a new smaller stage under the theatre and it will be called something like Chicago Theatre Downstairs set to open in September the 1st show i think will be eather “Sheer Madness” or “HairSpray”.
Thank You for Your Time :)

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on June 10, 2006 at 12:59 pm

Randolph Street was fun back then. I had forgotten about that arcade. Put many quarters into the great standup video games in that place!

I’ll take that over Block 37 any day.

daimon9 on June 10, 2006 at 8:31 am

The last movie I saw at the Chicago Theater was E.T when I was around 7 or 8. I remember going downtown with my friends when I was around 12 years old(1986) and having so much to do downtown. It was so much fun to go downtown when I was younger. We used to go to the Wood’s Theater, United Artist, and maybe grab some pizza at Ronnie’s and then hit the gameroom that used to be in between State and Dearborn on Randolph. Ahhh!! the memories.

hamiltonmark on June 8, 2006 at 2:44 pm

This theatre was use in the TV show “So You Think You Can Dance” which aired on Wednesday June 7 2006. You were shown great shots of both the inside and outside of this theare.
What a fantastic looking theatre.

Broan on June 6, 2006 at 4:47 am

Keep in mind, the scanning is done from the microfilm and then uses OCR technology to recognize the text, so it shouldn’t be terribly labor-intensive. One of the major drawbacks is that to get the text most readable for OCR, the exposure for the whole page is knocked up drastically, such that graphics are almost always badly distorted.

Broan on June 6, 2006 at 4:44 am

It must be getting more affordable, though; the Proquest-competitor (which features a far less sophisticated and therefore less useful search system) now features many local papers, including the suburban chicago Daily Herald.

JimRankin on June 6, 2006 at 4:30 am

Thank you, Brian; it is nice to know this. Maybe research on Chicago area theatres will now go even faster than before. It’s a pity more cities' papers are not fully on-line, but so much scanning and server space is no doubt expensive.

Broan on June 5, 2006 at 4:21 pm

Well, actually Jim, the full run of the Chicago Tribune is now online, available through the Chicago Public Library, and various local libraries and universities. once you get a hang of running searches (I usually do a combination search of several unlikely theater names that would appear in the daily listings, like “milford AND rockne AND adelphi” or what have you), you can fairly easily pull up movie listings for a set window of time. It would be time consuming of course, but less fatiguing than microfilm.