Chicago Theatre

175 N. State Street,
Chicago, IL 60601

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Chicago Theatre 1966

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” & Buster Keaton in “The Playhouse”. There was a 50-piece orchestra and organist Jessie Crawford opened the Wurltitzer 4 manual, 29 ranks theatre organ which in 1923 had a second console added to the instrument. 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 façade 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 302 comments)

plugai on September 22, 2021 at 11:10 pm

This theater I have many stories for! I saw Magnum Force in 1973 and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre in 1974. The theater was dark and nasty during these years. We would take the Lake Street Elevated train from Oak Park, Illinois during this period. My best friend Kevin and his brothers Michael and Danny were blessed to be part of the “carpenter rehab” of the Chicago Theater rebirth that would have Frank Sinatra open. Michael told stories of the carpenters taking their hammers and hitting the backs of the original seats, and rats would come running out. Both brothers stayed aboard to the Frank Sinatra openings and were granted opening night seats for their respective families. I was blessed with working for Donny Osmond for the Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat play. I was able to snoop everywhere in that theater which was my home away from home for a few years. The architecture is fantastic!! I even got to see Penn and Teller, Chita Rivera, Kiss of the Spiderwoman, and two “Glamorama” Marshall Field events for Charity! Stage left or right stage for viewers, the fountain and secret door was fun to come inside and outside of. Hanging in the closed off private “club seats” observing play progress. The wall of autographs both stage right and left. The dressing room of Frank Sinatra and others following are awesome experiences. I will always love the Chicago theater.

DavidZornig on October 27, 2021 at 12:15 am

Opened 100 years ago today. October 26, 1921. In addition to Norma Talmadge in “The Sign on the Door”, was Buster Keaton in “The Playhouse”. Grand Opening print ad added to Photo Gallery. Not previously posted.

bigjoe59 on October 28, 2021 at 9:27 pm

Hello from NYC-

when did this theater end its life as a 1st run venue?

DavidZornig on October 28, 2021 at 9:51 pm

Per the Overview:

“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”.”

Both films were released in August, so I believe considered first run if showing in September.

bigjoe59 on October 28, 2021 at 10:10 pm


thanks to DavidZ. for your reply. just out of curiosity from 1952-1972 the studios regularly released their BIG films with roadshow engagements. was the Chicago ever used for roadshow engagements?

DavidZornig on October 28, 2021 at 10:26 pm

That I do not know, other than various premieres. But on page 7 of the archived comments, is a May 1, 2007 comment that lists all the films and their run dates from 1964-1980. Which you can use to do any research on what were possibly roadshow engagements or not.

bigjoe59 on October 28, 2021 at 10:56 pm


to DavidZ.- I looked at the list you mentioned and none of
the films listed were roadshow engagements.

DavidZornig on October 28, 2021 at 11:26 pm

OK, I’d say check the State-Lake across the street and the Oriental now listed as Nederlander on CT.
The film lists/dates for those theatres were added the same time in 2007 in the comments.

DavidZornig on November 11, 2021 at 3:36 am

Paul Dimler photo.

Broan on February 5, 2022 at 5:54 pm An interesting photo of orchestra pit lighting

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