Ford Center for the Performing Arts Oriental Theatre

24 West Randolph Street,
Chicago, IL 60601

Unfavorite 39 people favorited this theater

Ford Center for the Performing Arts Oriental Theatre

Viewing: Photo | Street View

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 3, 1980 (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 177 comments)

justinterested on December 18, 2011 at 3:58 pm

I can recall seeing one of the last combination stage/movie performances at the Oriental. Can’t remember the year but i do remember the star singing on the stage was a man named Don Cherry.

DAL on May 8, 2012 at 6:59 am

Longtime Oriental Theatre manager Mickey Gold, who ran the place for the last 30+ years as a movie theatre, shared great stories about his work lunches with some of the stage performers (big band leaders and The Three Stooges, for example).

chicagomike47 on September 9, 2012 at 9:19 pm

i saw the world premeire of ‘PARIS HOLIDAY’ in 1958 and saw BOB HOPE IN PERSON at the oriental theater

DavidZornig on October 3, 2012 at 3:08 pm

btkreft, there is no photo on that link. Just a grey background.

CSWalczak on October 3, 2012 at 3:41 pm

It works when I clicked upon it.

DavidZornig on October 3, 2012 at 3:44 pm

Hmmm. I’m still getting “Image cannot be displayed because it contains errors” in faint lettering at the top.

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.

You must login before making a comment.

New Comment

Subscribe Want to be emailed when a new comment is posted about this theater?
Just login to your account and subscribe to this theater