Facing Randolph Street as a part of the Bismarck Hotel complex, the Palace Theater is the westernmost of the downtown venues that made up the Chicago Theater District. My first exposure to the Palace was in 1952 when my mother took us kids downtown to see the new Cinerama production, "This Is Cinerama". The auditorium of the Palace was converted to show the new film process invented by Fred Waller, which meant that several rows of seats had to be removed and three floor level projection booths installed. The film itself was spectacular, with roller coaster rides and other exciting events all designed to show off this impressive new medium.
Cinerama was the first of the wide screen film processes and it worked by utilizing three specialized 35mm projectors to fill a deeply curved, 146 degree, custom built louvered screen. Since there were three interlocked projectors running in syncronization and projecting six times the normal amount of film, the image that they threw on the screen was nearly thirty times sharper in focus than standard 35mm fare. It was an extremely sharp and vivid picture, proving Waller's theory that peripheral vision and perspective add as much to the illusion of visual depth as does parallax. The sound was played back using Cinerama's unique seven channel, full range and discret sound system, five channels behind the screen, and separate left and right wall channels. None of the wide screen processes developed since Cinerama have matched it in realism, clarity or depth.
The system was introduced in 1952 and there were seven films made in this unique, three camera process. An eighth was a collection of several scenes from the first seven films. They were:
Cinerama, the granddaddy of all wide-screen processes, so revolutionized the cinema going experience that stereo and wide screen presentations have never gone out of use. Yet, Cinerama remains the best of the wide-screen systems. It has never been bettered! The Palace Theater was opened in 1926 and was leased for many years by the nationwide RKO movie-house circuit. The theater could accomodate 2,500 movie-goers at a time. It has recently been renovated and renamed the Cadillac Palace. The Bismarck Hotel has had a complete changeover also, now known as the Hotel Allegro, focusing on music, theater and the performing arts.
Link to the Palace Theater at Street Level