A tale of three sets of brothers (starting with Barney Balaban), and Widespread Panic.
When it opened as “The Wonder Theatre of the World”, the Chicago Theatre was “the first large, lavish movie palace in America and was the prototype for all others… constructed for $4m by theatre owners Barney & Abe Balaban and Sam & Morris Katz and designed by Cornelius & George Rapp… French Baroque style, The Chicago Theatre’s exterior features a miniature replica of Paris’ Arc de Triomphe, sculpted above its State Street marquee… the triumphal arch is sixty feet wide and six stories high. Within the arch is a grand window in which is set a large circular stained-glass panel bearing the coat-of-arms of the Balaban and Katz chain—two horses holding ribbons of 35-mm film in their mouths. 🐴The grand lobby, modeled after the Royal Chapel at Versailles, is five stories high and surrounded by gallery promenades at the mezzanine and balcony levels. The grand staircase is patterned after that of the Paris Opera House and ascends to the various levels of the Great Balcony. The 3,600 seat auditorium is seven stories high, more than one half of a city block wide, and nearly as long… the sign and marquee are landmarks in themselves, as is the 29-rank Wurlitzer theatre pipe organ… An array of the entertainment world’s brightest stars and greatest productions have graced the stage, including Arcade Fire, Kelly Clarkson, Harry Connick Jr, Ellen DeGeneres, Aretha Franklin, Gipsy Kings, Alicia Keys, David Letterman, Dolly Parton, Prince, Robin Williams, Diana Ross, and Widespread Panic.
Opened in 1921, closed in 1985, restored, and reopened 1986 with a gala performance by Frank Sinatra, who played there in the 1950s.
Info quotes from owner Madison Square Garden Co. site. Interior photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons: Jrissman, Murals by Louis Grell (1887-1960). [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]. National Register of Historic Places 1979.
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