Ford Center for the Performing Arts Oriental Theatre

Ford Center for the Performing Arts Oriental Theatre
New Masonic Building and Oriental Theater
Location: 24 & 32 W Randolph Street, Chicago, Illinois
Coordinates: 41°53′5″N 87°37′43″W / 41.88472°N 87.62861°W / 41.88472; -87.62861Coordinates: 41°53′5″N 87°37′43″W / 41.88472°N 87.62861°W / 41.88472; -87.62861
Built: 1926
Architect: Rapp and Rapp
Architectural style: Late Gothic Revival, Art Deco
Governing body: Private
NRHP Reference#: 78003401 [1]
Added to NRHP: September 26, 1978

The Ford Center for the Performing Arts Oriental Theatre is a theater located at 24 West Randolph Street in the Loop area of downtown Chicago, Illinois. Opened in 1926 as a deluxe movie palace, today the Oriental is operated by Broadway In Chicago, a subsidiary of the Nederlander Organization. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as New Masonic Building and Oriental Theater.



The Oriental Theatre opened in 1926 as one of many ornate movie palaces built in Chicago during the 1920s by the firm Rapp and Rapp. It was built on the same location as the former Iroquois Theatre (later the Colonial Theatre) site of a disastrous 1903 fire that claimed over 600 lives, although the outer facade looks identical, and despite statements to the contrary, the Oriental retained nothing from the building that once stood on the same site.

The Oriental continued to be a vital part of Chicago's theatre district into the 1960s, but patronage declined in the 1970s along with the fortunes of the Chicago Loop in general. Late in the decade, the theatre survived by showing exploitation films. It closed in 1981 and was vacant for more than a decade.[2]

The Oriental is one of several houses now operating in Chicago's revitalized Loop Theatre District. According to Richard Christiansen, the opening of the Oriental spurred on the restoration of other theatres in The Loop.[3]

The district is also home to the Cadillac Palace Theatre, Bank of America Theatre (formerly The Shubert Theatre), the Goodman Theatre, and the Chicago Theatre. Randolph Street was traditionally the center of downtown Chicago's entertainment district until the 1960s when the area began to decline. The now demolished United Artists Theatre, Woods Theatre, Garrick Theater, State-Lake Theatre and Roosevelt Theatre were located on or near Randolph Street.


The architects of the Oriental were George L. and Cornelius W. Rapp, who also built the Palace and Chicago Theatres. The Oriental features decor inspired by the architecture of India. The 3,250-seat theatre was operated by the city's dominant theatre chain, Balaban and Katz (a subsidiary of Paramount Pictures).[4]


On January 10, 1996, Canadian Theatrical firm Livent announced it acquired the property and announced it would renovate the structure with an anticipated completion date of 1998.[5] The city of Chicago pledged $13.5 million toward the restoration and Ford Motor Company entered into a sponsorship agreement with Livent for a reported $1 million annual fee.[6]

However in 1997, Livent's fortunes turned and the company began to lose money. In November 1998, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the US and the Bankruptcy Court approved the sale of its assets to SFX Entertainment.[7]

The restored theatre reopened on October 18, 1998 with a reconfigured seating capacity of 2,253.[2] The restored venue now hosts touring Broadway shows. The theatre's full name is The Ford Center for the Performing Arts Oriental Theatre; however it is commonly called simply the Oriental Theatre.

During the restoration, architect Daniel P. Coffey created a design plan that would increase the theatre's backstage area by gutting the adjacent Oliver Building while preserving one-third of its original steel structure, as well as the building's Dearborn façade and a portion of its alley façade.

General Interest

Both movies and vaudeville acts were presented during its early years, but by the 1930s it became predominantly a movie house, though live performances and concerts continued. Duke Ellington and his orchestra made frequent appearances at the Oriental.

In October 1934, 12-year-old Frances Gumm and her sisters performed at the theatre but received laughs when George Jessel would introduce them as The Gumm Sisters. At his urging, they changed their name to The Garland Sisters after his friend, New York Times critic Robert Garland. "Frances Garland" would later change her first name, to become Judy Garland.

The Oriental Theatre is referenced at the beginning of the 1958 film Auntie Mame.


Many stars (besides the ones aforementioned) performed at the Oriental including The Three Stooges, Bing Crosby, Al Jolson, Stepin Fetchit, Sophie Tucker, Eddie Cantor, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, Fanny Brice, Danny Kaye, Billie Holiday, Alice Faye, Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth.

Notable Productions

The theatre re-opened in 1998 with the Chicago premiere of the musical Ragtime. From June 2005 through January 2009, the theatre housed a sit-down production of Wicked, making it the most popular stage production in Chicago history. Wicked exceeded expectations, according to producer David Stone: "To be honest, we thought it would run eighteen months, then we'd spend a year in Los Angeles and six months in San Francisco."[8] The pre-Broadway production of The Addams Family, starring Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth was held at The Oriental from November 13, 2009 through January 10, 2010. The Oriental hosted a production of the 2009 Tony Award winner for Best Musical Billy Elliot starring, among others, Cesar Corrales as Billy Elliot from March 18 to November 28, 2010.

See also


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2006-03-15. 
  2. ^ a b Newman, Scott A (1 May 1926). "Opening of Big Loop House Only Week Away". Chicago Evening American ( Retrieved 2007-12-13. 
  3. ^ Christiansen, Richard (16 November 1997). "Culture, Commerce and Entertainment: Downtown is Reborn". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2011-04-08. 
  4. ^ Newman, Scott A (12 January 1997), Oriental Theatre,,, retrieved 2007-12-13 
  5. ^ "Livent Announces Proposal for Revitalization of Chicago's Historic Oriental Theater". Business Wire ( 10 January 1996. Retrieved 2011-04-08. 
  6. ^ "Oriental Theater Goes Through the Ford Assembly Line". (Aurora, IL) Beacon-News ( 17 April 1997. 
  7. ^ Robert Minor (5 December 1998). "Oriental rehab payment OKd". Chicago Sun-Times ( 
  8. ^ Oxman, Steven (22 January 2007). "Touring shows stay in the loop: Broadway in Chicago boost economy". Variety. Retrieved 2011-04-08. 

Balaban, David, The Chicago Movie Palaces of Balaban and Katz, Arcadia Publishing 2006

External links

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