Ford Center for the Performing Arts Oriental Theatre

24 West Randolph Street,
Chicago, IL 60601

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Ford Center for the Performing Arts Oriental Theatre

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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, which stands on Randolph Street between State Street and 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 theater’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 theater 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.

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

Contributed by Ross Melnick

Recent comments (view all 182 comments)

Broan on October 3, 2012 at 4:16 pm

When I clicked it, it didn’t work, but displayed after I refreshed it.

Tim O'Neill
Tim O'Neill on June 4, 2013 at 3:18 am

Today (June 4) marks the 35th Anniversary of the fire that broke out in the lobby area of the balcony. So ironic that a fire would break out nearly 75 years after the Iroquois Theatre disaster happened at the same location.

rivest266 on March 5, 2014 at 4:56 pm

May 8th, 1926 grand opening ad in photo section.

DavidZornig on May 23, 2014 at 1:56 pm

The Oriental is seen at 4:51 in this Vivian Maier film.

DavidZornig on July 15, 2015 at 4:57 pm

February 1943 photo added via Kenneth McIntyre.

DavidZornig on August 19, 2015 at 2:03 pm

11/21/69-12/04/69 photo added courtesy of Darla Zailskas. The X rated “Fanny Hill” ran until Christmas Eve `69, and had been raided at the end of November. Tribune story below. Copy and paste to view.

DavidZornig on September 11, 2015 at 3:10 pm

Two 1950 photos added, photo source Chicago-Photographic Images of Change Collection-University of Illinois at Chicago.

DavidZornig on January 4, 2016 at 7:38 pm

To CT Admins. The closing date in the Overview should be changed to January 3, 1981 from 1980. Below is a January 2nd 1981 Tribune link, with it’s final film appearing in the ads. Information courtesy of Tim O'Neill.

Tim O'Neill
Tim O'Neill on January 10, 2016 at 9:52 am

I believe the actual closing date was Sunday, January 4, 1981.

RickB on April 30, 2016 at 8:19 am

Upper floors of the theater building set to become a 198-room hotel, opening in September 2017. DNAInfo story here.

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