The Chicago Theater - 1959


The Chicago Theater continues to be one of the most easily recognized images of the city of Chicago. Its marquee has helped to symbolize the city to the world since its construction in the 1921. It was among the flagship theaters of the Balaban and Katz theater organization. I can remember family trips to the Chicago theater in the forties when they still had a combination of live performances and movies. It was a wonderful experience for a young boy to go to a movie and be treated to live bands, orchestras, comics and popular singers.

Chicago Theater Today In the early days, an agreement with movie production companies stipulated that only the downtown theaters could show first run features. Films could not go to the outlying theaters until they had finished their downtown engagement. The advent of television and the changing of the first-run rule changed everything. As fewer people went downtown to see a movie, the theater began to show "B" rated and second run films; drawing a smaller and less respectable audience. I can remember taking my own children there in the early eighties and feeling sad over the loss of so great a lady. The grand old former movie palace had fallen into disrepair, and yet, you could see the signs of its former glory all around you. The Chicago Theater was due to face the wrecking ball when a spirited group of public officials and civic leaders began a series of legal actions to save it.

The theater was designated an historic landmark in 1983, and in 1984 it was purchased by the newly incorporated Chicago Theater Preservation Group, Ltd., for $11.5 million. The purchase included the Page Building next door, and the Preservation Group proceeded to restore both buildings at a cost of $9 million. (the theater itself cost $4.3 million for its restoration, far less than the cost of the production of one film in today's market) The renovations took just under a year. It reopened on September 10, 1986.

The renovation brought it back to its full glory and it again serves as one of the premier theaters of the newly revived theater district. The 3800 seat theater is now used primarily for live performances. It is located at 175 North State Street, immediately across from the former State-Lake Theater which now serves as the ABC television studios.

Right next door is the old "Loop" Theater. It began its life as the "telenews', showing only newsreels in a pre-television world. It was, in its day, a forrunner of CNN and other twenty-four hour a day news gathering stations. As television began to bring "newsreels" directly into our homes, the Telenews was transformed into a small second string "B" movie theater called the "Loop". Suffering the same lack of audience experienced by the larger theaters, it began to show racy and less legitamate venues. It eventually closed and the building was transformed into a discount electronics store.


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