Chicago Theatre

175 N. State Street,
Chicago, IL 60601

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Chicago Theatre - Auditorium from left of balcony

One of the grandest movie palaces ever built, this 3,880-seat palace opened on October 26, 1921 with Norma Talmadge in “The Sign on the Door”. There was a 50-piece orchestra and organist Jessie Crawford opened the Wultitzer 4 manual, 29 ranks theatre organ which in 1923 had a second console added to the instument. This console was opened by Mrs Crawford (Helen Anderson) and she played in tandem with her husband for the following three years.

The Chicago Theatre was designed by Rapp & Rapp, the favored architectural firm of the theatre’s original operators, the Balaban & Katz chain, the Chicago Theatre was their flagship house. The facade of the building was based upon the Arc de Triomph in Paris, France and is glazed in off-white terra-cotta. The interior design is based on elements of the Palace of Versailles in France. Seating was provided for 1,984 in the orchestra, 392 in the mezzanine and 1,504 in the balcony. The stage was 112ft wide and 30ft deep. Later operated by Plitt Theatres, they closed the Chicago Theatre as a movie theatre on September 19, 1985 with Michael Dudikoff in “American Ninja” & Michael J. Fox in “Teen Wolf”.

The Chicago Theatre was restored to its 1920’s appearance in 1986, reopening on September 10, 1986 with Frank Sinatra on stage. The huge six-stories high vertical sign is original to the building and together with the marquee (dating from 1949) have served as the unofficial emblem of the City of Chicago. It now hosts a mix of concerts, live entertainment, and assorted special events (like the annual Glamorama fashion show sponsored by Macy’s -formerly Marshall Field’s- and the occasional movie screening for the Chicago International Film Festival).

Contributed by Ken Roe

Recent comments (view all 279 comments)

bigjoe59 on September 21, 2017 at 11:49 am

Hello From NYC-

the era of building grand ornate movie theaters was approx. 1914-1941. now many still exist in prime condition. for instance the Castro in San Francisco has been in continual operation since it opened Sept. of 1922 but its was built from the get go as a 2nd/3rd run neighborhood which is where my question comes in. I am looking for grand ornate movie theaters built from the get go as 1st run venues and have continued to operate as such since the day they opened. NYC nor San Francisco have any left. does Chicago?

Scott on September 21, 2017 at 2:51 pm

Chicago has a few grand old theatres still showing movies but none, to my knowledge, that have done so continuously since opening. Some that are showing movies are the Logan, Patio, Portage, Music Box, and Davis. The Biograph also presents film occasionally, though that is no longer its principle function. Plus, its interior has been gutted so it doesn’t really meet your criteria. And all these theatres have been closed for various periods over the last 20-30 years or so. There are others that have the capability to show movies but seldom do so, such as the Copernicus Center (Gateway) and the Chicago Theatre. There are a couple others that are showing movies now but did not do so for many years, either because they were closed or were being used for other purposes, such as the Mozart and the Mercury.

HowardBHaas on September 21, 2017 at 3:17 pm

Scott, what do you mean by the “Mozart”? I can’t find that as a historic theater, by googling. Please provide a link or better, a link to this website’s page.

bigjoe59 on September 21, 2017 at 3:52 pm


I thank Scott for his reply. in terms of the grand ornate movie theaters build between 1914-1941 the only one which opened from the get go as a 1st run venue and has continued to operate as such is the Chinese in Hollywood. out of all 50 states that’s kind of sad.

Scott on September 22, 2017 at 11:03 am

Howard, you got me. Wrong composer. I meant the Chopin Theatre. The memory isn’t what it used to be.

DavidZornig on October 4, 2017 at 2:06 pm

Flickr link with a 1964 postcard (April `63 image).

Mikeoaklandpark on November 10, 2017 at 1:35 pm

The only thing I remember is it’s last movie operator was Plitt Theaters

RickB on November 10, 2017 at 2:25 pm

Last day of operation as a cinema was September 19, 1985 with “American Ninja” and “Teen Wolf,” both of which were also playing at suburban theaters. Plitt’s advertising for the Chicago at the end seems to have become sporadic at best—on the Saturday before the closing, their display ad notes an all-night Bruce Lee marathon at the Chicago but does not mention what might have been playing at other times. A Tribune story on the day after the finale alludes to $2.50 tickets and lots of martial arts films, so it’s likely that the theater was no longer a true first-run house.

DavidZornig on January 20, 2018 at 8:29 pm

Posting this history of Balaban & Katz here as it is likely the most visited.

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