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The Chicago Traveler

Oriental Theatre

by User ImageMatt B on February 25th, 2008

The Ford Center for the Performing Arts Oriental Theatre opened in 1926 to much fanfare on the site of the former Iroquois Theatre. It was the first theatre Balaban and Katz had built in the Loop since the opening of the Chicago Theatre in 1921.

oriental theatreThe theatre's Asian-influenced d'cor may be over-the-top, but it has never been matched. In its heyday, the theatre was full of turbaned ushers, large mosaics, and multi-colored glazed Buddhas. The Oriental Theatre presented first-run popular films and vaudeville acts. Several stars played there, including The Three Stooges, George Burns, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Danny Kaye, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, and many more. An interesting fact: in 1934, 12-year-old Frances Gumm and her sisters performed at the Oriental Theatre. After their performance, George Jessel suggested they call themselves 'the Garland sisters.' Little Frances 'Garland' would later change her name to Judy'

Unfortunately, the theatre fell into disrepair during the '70s. Fewer and fewer people headed downtown for their entertainment. The Oriental Theater was added to the Federal National Register of Historic Places in 1978 in an effort to preserve the building, but eventually it was forced to close in 1981. It sat vacant for more than a decade. It was finally renovated and restored in the late 1990s, and the building was reopened on October 18, 1998 with the premiere of the musical Ragtime. The Oriental is currently hosting the musical Wicked.

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Photo credit: goatopolis, WxMom, Archigeek, yuan2003, dstark, ElectraSteph

Oriental Theatre: 24 W Randolph St; 312-902-1400 (tickets), 312-986-6863
Street parking difficult, pay lot available
Public trans: Bus # 2, 6, 10, 22, 24, 29, 36, 62, 144, 145, 146, 148
Red Line train (Lake)
Orange/Pink/Green/Purple/Brown Line train (Randolph)

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POSTED IN: Architecture & Attractions

4 opinions for Oriental Theatre

  • no imageSharon Williams (Check me out!)
    Feb 25, 2008 at 7:53 am

    Always happy to see one of Chicago’s grande dames spotlighted. While the Oriental is indeed a historical treasure, I still think the interior looks like a Turkish whore house. Still, I love it. But then I love anything to do with Chicago’s history and the theater district is a favorite topic.

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  • no imageMatt B (Check me out!)
    Feb 26, 2008 at 1:21 am

    I agree Sharon, it’s nice to see history preserved.

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  • no imagedelk (Check me out!)
    Feb 26, 2008 at 10:29 pm

    hmmm, not sure if ” Fewer and fewer people headed downtown for their entertainment. ” is what really was happening.

    An odd time… most of those theaters were only showing ‘blaxpotation’ or ‘kung fu’ crap at the time. The Jane Byrne mallification of State was also happening, paving the way for wholesale rape of beaux-art masterpieces on Boul Mich for vertical mall action.

    Oddly enough, beneath the ‘block 37′ mess was the most amazing grocery store and now we hope for a Trader Joe’s in the old Carson’s….

    (aiiii…. I’m old)

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  • no imageMatt B (Check me out!)
    Feb 28, 2008 at 4:39 am

    Delk, I do agree that the statement was a bit of oversimplification. Occasionally, when cramming decades worth of history into a couple hundred
    words, I have to trim some of the details. My hope is that the plug helps
    spark interest and encourages people to seek out further information.

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