24 W. Randolph Street,
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Opened in November 1903, the Iroquois was designed by Benjamin Marshall, who also designed the Illinois Theatre, and would later design the Blackstone Theatre with future partner Charles Fox. It, like most of the legitimate houses of the day, was designed in the Beaux-Arts style, made popular by the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago a decade earlier. The interior was advertised in newspapers as "a temple of beauty" as well as being "absolutely fireproof", with an asbestos fire curtain.
On December 30, 1903, a month and a half after the Iroquois opened, comedian Eddie Foy was appearing onstage in the smash musical comedy "Mr. Bluebeard" to a standing-room only crowd of almost 1900. Painted canvas backdrops backstage placed too close to a spotlight caught on fire, quickly spreading to the stage area itself just as Foy was starting the second act. In a panic, those on stage rushed out the stage door, letting in a blast of air, which only fed the fire more, causing it to jump into the auditorium itself, quickly reaching to the balconies.
The asbestos curtain somehow jammed halfway down, leaving the theater to the mercy of the blaze. Despite Foy’s pleas to the panicked crowd to stay calm and that the situation was under control, patrons ran to the exits in throngs only to find the doors opened inwards, and many were bolted shut from the outside.
Many people were trampled to death, as well as leaping to their deaths from the balconies or from fire escapes three or four floors above Randolph Street.
By the time it was all over, more than 600 men, women and children had perished in the blaze, making it the worst disaster in Chicago’s history, inflicting a greater death toll than the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, in which about 250 died.
Though the auditorium was heavily damaged by the fire, the Iroquois was structurally sound, and was rebuilt and reopened less than a year later, as Hyde and Behman’s Music Hall, which presented vaudeville. In 1905, the theater became the Colonial, which was, like the Iroquois, a legitimate playhouse.
In 1913, the Colonial was acquired from the Klaw & Erlanger theatrical circuit by the Jones, Linick, & Schaefer circuit, which operated it as a vaudeville and movie theater.
The Colonial was razed in May 1924 to make way for the United Masonic Temple building, which also housed the Oriental Theatre, which, after a long period of inactivity, is once again open, as a live theatrical venue.
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