The Chicago Theatre

chicago theatre
Photo Credit: Kevin Dooley

Seeing Frank Sinatra singing “My Kind of Town” at the Chicago Theatre would have made my life. Too bad I wasn’t born yet. The Chicago Theatre is an iconic landmark in the city, just as the Willis (Sears) Tower, Wrigley Field, and Navy Pier, all symbolize Chicago. The vertical sign represents the Chicago theatre district, State Street, and Chicago as a mecca of culture and prosperity. Since the 1920s the theatre has hosted great musicians, comedians, and entertainers, including Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Robin Williams, Prince, and many more.

The theatre opened in 1921 and at the time was called the “wonder theatre of the world.” It was the first luxurious movie theater of its kind, setting an example for theaters across America. Designed by Cornelius and George Rapp, the building was constructed for $4 million by theatre owners Barney and Abe Balaban and Sam and Morris Katz.

Above the famed marquee, the building is designed as a small replica of France’s Arc de Triomphe. The arch spans 60 feet wide and six stories tall and features a grand window displaying the coat of arms of the Balaban and Katz chain — two horses holding ribbons of 35-mm film in their mouths.

The Grand Lobby is modeled after the Royal Chapel at Versailles and the grand staircase is designed based on the Paris Opera House, ascending to the various levels of the Great Balcony. Marshall Field supplied the original drapes and furniture.

The theatre opened to immense popularity with its lush accommodations and strategic location in Chicago’s downtown. Opening day featured First National Picture’s The Sign on the Door starring Norma Talmadge, while a 50 piece orchestra played in the pit.

Unfortunately, the theatre wasn’t always as thriving as it is today. The space closed in September of 1985 due to economic factors, its future unknown. Not long after in 1986, the Chicago Theatre Restoration Associates, with the city of Chicago, saved the theatre and set out to renovate the Chicago landmark. The redesign and restoration was led by Chicago architects Daniel P. Coffey & Associates, Ltd. and interior design consultants A.T. Heinsbergen & Co. of Los Angeles. After nine months, the Chicago Theatre reopened on September 10, 1986 with a gala performance by Frank Sinatra.

Today, the Chicago Theatre is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places (1979) and is a registered Chicago landmark (1983). It is owned by Madison Square Garden Inc. While walking down State Street, it is not to be missed.

The Essentials:
Location: 175 N. State St.
Phone: (312) 462-6300

Box Office hours:
Tuesday and Thursday 11:30a.m. – 6p.m.
Monday, Wednesday and Friday 12p/m. to 6p.m.
Saturday tour tickets may be purchased at the State Street doors 10 minutes before tour.
October & November: Tours at noon.
December: Tours at 11:30a.m. & 12:30p.m.

Theatre Tours:
Adults: $12
Children (12 and under): $10
Groups of 10 or more: $10 per person
There are no tours on Thanksgiving or Christmas


Tessa McLean

About Tessa McLean

There is just something about that feeling when you have been away — maybe for a weekend, a month, 6 months — and you’re driving into Chicago and that first glimpse of the city skyline appears. It just always makes me smile.

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