James M. Nederlander Theatre

24 W. Randolph Street,
Chicago, IL 60601

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James M. Nederlander Theatre

Opened May 8, 1926 on the site of the tragic Iroquois (later the Colonial) Theatre, and seating over 3,200, this was Balaban & Katz' first new Loop movie palace since the opening of the Chicago Theatre in 1921. Opening day at the Oriental Theatre included popular bandleader Paul Ash (who moved to the Oriental Theatre from B & K’s McVickers Theatre) presenting two musical reviews “Insultin' the Sultan” and “Harem-Scarem”. Harry Langdon in “Tramp, Tramp, Tramp” was the first movie to appear on the screen. Originally, ushers and other B & K employees wore costumes inspired by the “Arabian Nights”. The Oriental Theatre was equipped with a Wurlitzer 4 manual 20 Ranks theatre organ.

The Oriental Theatre, which stands on W. Randolph Street between N. State Street and N. Dearborn Street, was for many years, in addition to live stage shows and movies, also one of Chicago’s premier destinations for live jazz performances by many of the greats of the era, including frequent performer Duke Ellington.

The Oriental Theatre thrived through the 1960’s, but by the late-1970’s, however, the Loop was no longer the entertainment destination of earlier decades, and the Oriental Theatre, like many of the other movie palaces downtown, was reduced to B-grade action and kung-fu films attended for the most part by young people. It was closed on January 4, 1981 (having last been run by the Kohlberg Theatres chain), the Loop and the theatre’s fortunes had fallen into disarray. For several years, an electronics store operated in the lobby space of the Oriental Theatre while the remainder of the theatre was disued.

Shuttered for over 15 years, the Oriental Theatre was magnificently restored to its original exotic and over-the-top Indian-Indochinese style appearance in 1996 and reopened in 1998 as the Ford Center for the Performing Arts Oriental Theatre. The theatre is now host to live Broadway stage productions. On February 12, 2019 the theatre will be renamed James M. Nederlander Theatre.

The Oriental Theatre was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.

Contributed by Ross Melnick

Recent comments (view all 200 comments)

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on January 11, 2019 at 8:49 pm

I am a direct relative of the Rapps. They had no intention of being racist when naming the theater. They named it Oriental because of the decor. They respected very much the sources in the east they tapped to make the design a success. People in the United States at that time had not seen anything like that, and it was exciting for them. Getting people excited to go to the show was the whole point at that time.

I know plenty of Asian people in Chicago and nobody has ever expressed offense over the name of the Oriental. The Nederlanders simply want to put their name on the theater, and it is pathetic. When an organization wants to get rid of something or someone it is the strategy du jour to cry racism.

Traditions in New York City, like the Empire State and the Chrysler Buiding have been respected. But traditions in Chicago are not. Willis Tower is a big example.

Macy’s also came in her some years ago and erased the legacy of Marshall Fields, and in the end it has not served their purposes terribly well. The whole idea was to save money on marketing various brands. But now the Internet is challenging them, and if they had several generations of old brand loyalty for Fields it might be serving them a lot better than what they are looking at right now.

I can understand the Nederlandars' desire for self-promotion. But I’m not sure their efforts are going to land them any better than Macy’s has.

Eric Mason Ellis

DavidZornig on January 19, 2019 at 9:02 am

Former Masonic meeting hall on the 14th floor being converted into Teatro ZinZanni circus and dinner cabaret.


DavidZornig on January 24, 2019 at 9:00 pm

3 photos added of the name being changed.

DavidZornig on February 11, 2019 at 7:17 am

The change is complete. Sun-Times link with photos of officially lit.


DavidZornig on June 21, 2019 at 6:29 am

Saul Smaizys 01/23/76-02/05/76 photo via Flickr. Image will enlarge in link.


DavidZornig on June 21, 2019 at 7:44 am

02/06/76-02/19/76 Saul Smaizys photo in Flickr link below. Image will enlarge.


DavidZornig on June 21, 2019 at 8:05 am

3/28/75-4/10/75 Saul Smaizys photo. Will enlarge.


DavidZornig on June 21, 2019 at 8:08 am

9/30/77-10/06/77 Saul Smaizys photo.


DavidZornig on June 21, 2019 at 8:11 am

Another 9/30/77-10/06/77 Saul Smaizys photo.


DavidZornig on January 6, 2020 at 12:45 pm

YouTube link with November-December 1978 footage of the Oriental & United Artists beginning at the 2:46 mark.


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