Orpheum Theatre

112 S. State Street,
Chicago, IL 60603

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Orpheum Theatre

Viewing: Photo | Street View

When the Orpheum Theatre opened in 1907, it was one of the largest vaudeville houses in the Loop at that time, and sat nearly 800. Designed by the firm of Holabird & Roche, better known in Chicago for their office towers than their theater buildings, it was built for the Jones, Linnick and Schaefer circuit, which was founded by showman Aaron J. Jones.

Other Loop houses in the chain included the Bijou Dream, which was next door to the Orpheum Theatre, the Rialto Theatre and the Randolph Theatre.

The Orpheum Theatre was in a highly busy area, near the corner of State Street and Monroe Street, so it never had problems playing to packed houses. It featured "continuous vaudeville", from nine in the morning to at least eleven at night, fifteen nearly hour-long shows a day, stopping only to let one audience out and show the next in. At one point, daily attendance on weekends was over 10,000 a day.

The Orpheum’s facade was stunning, a masterpiece of Beaux-Arts architecture, and one of the most beautiful theater facades in Chicago’s history. A two-story archway capped by a figure of a goddess was illuminated by electric lights and sparkling white terra-cotta, meant to resemble marble. Over the arch, a sea-shell pattern raditated outwards from a terra-cotta peacock in the center. The words "Continuous Vaudeville" were inscribed around the edge in gold-painted letters.

Inside, the Orpheum Theatre took up the first two stories of a multi-story office building. The interior was decorated in the style of a late-19th century opera house, with a double aisle, a small balcony, and several "opera boxes".

An innovation which made the theater particularly popular (especially during the often times miserably muggy Chicago summers) was its cutting-edge ventilation system, which blew ice-cooled air through the auditorium, a rare treat in early-20th Century public buildings in Chicago, which drew as many raves from theater-goers as its beauty did.

Early on, the theater’s management boasted it had the finest staff in any theater in the city, as well as "high class entertainment". Thus, its patrons felt a bit less put-off by its dime admission cost, while most of the vaudeville houses in the Loop cost a nickel.

In 1909, Jones switched from vaudeville to movies, becoming one of the first theaters in Chicago to screen motion pictures (outside nickelodeons). Besides movies, the Orpheum Theatre began to feature sing-along slide shows. Its popularity remained as strong as ever.

In the 1920’s, Aaron Jones sold the Orpheum Theatre to Warner Brothers, which continued to operate the theatre as a first-run house until its closure around 1936 or 1937.

Unfortunately, this treasure of early movie theater architecture was converted decades ago, first to a shoe shop, then a Burger King restaurant, and currently a menswear store.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 15 comments)

SouthsideBoy
SouthsideBoy on December 26, 2006 at 7:05 pm

I am filming a documentary on our old summer home in Eagle River, Wisconsin, which was built in 1926 by Peter Schaefer, who was one of owners of this theatre. My family purchased this vacation estate in 1940 from the Schaefers' after Ms. Schaefer’s death. If anyone out there has any related information on PJ Schaefer, please share it with me and I will credit you in our film. My Uncle, James Coston, was a friend of Schaefer in the 30’s when he was with Warner Brothers. I can be contacted thru this web site or directly at Principle photography for this feature begins Jan 11th in Eagle River. Thanks for any help you can lend, this was such a long time ago, not many people still around.

GrandMogul
GrandMogul on April 10, 2007 at 7:00 pm

NEWS ITEM:
Chicago Tribune, Sunday, June 1, 1958, s. 3, p. 6, c. 5:
PHIL SILVERS' FRIENDS THINK A LOT OF HIM
by John Fink
Phil Silvers memories of Chicago go back to the heyday of vaudeville. “Chicago was great in vaudeville days,” he says. “It was the center of the Orpheum circuit. One time you could stay six months in Chicago and not repeat a single theater. You played the Palace going west, and when you came back played the State-Lake and Orpheum.”


Broan
Broan on October 30, 2008 at 1:17 am

Opened September 9, 1907. Closed Late 1936/Early 1937

The building may actually be still standing although heavily remodeled several times over

kencmcintyre
kencmcintyre on November 23, 2008 at 2:07 am

BW, I wouldn’t hazard a guess as to the status of this building, but I did take a look at the photo on Google maps. 114 S. State is the Rainbow store, which is a separate building. 112 S. is the narrow white building with no windows. It looks like whatever was on the first floor has been boarded up.

You can take a look at it yourself, but you have to click a few times on the arrow to get over to 112.

Broan
Broan on November 23, 2008 at 2:11 am

Correct. I’m about 95% sure it’s the same building. I chewed through the topic thoroughly at View link

kencmcintyre
kencmcintyre on November 23, 2008 at 2:25 am

Now you made me feel bad, after my pitiful Google search, when you researched the building back to 1872. You should have warned me.

Ramova7719
Ramova7719 on July 26, 2011 at 4:11 pm

Talking about the subject Broan was talking about that hes 95 % sure it is if you go on bing it shows you an old water tank and it might say Orpheum. They dpon’t make water tanks like that. Plus the roof is curved like a theatre, and just like he said its the same top. I to am 99.99 percent sure its the same building!

Broan
Broan on December 4, 2011 at 9:41 pm

Disregard what I said earlier. If anything, the Orpheum was in the building that now houses the Men’s Wearhouse. The Orpheum closed in the spring of 1937 and was replaced by Kitty Kelly Shoes. So it is standing, just not in the building we thought. While Bryan’s article from Sept 8, 2009 says that it’s a new building, a previous article made clear that Kitty Kelly would heavily remodel the existing building.

Broan
Broan on September 28, 2012 at 2:12 am

Visible to the edge of this image: http://chicagopast.com/post/32402435741

very080
very080 on July 18, 2014 at 6:48 pm

Great image of the theater in 1907 http://umedia.lib.umn.edu/node/66692?mode=expert

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