The old movie palaces, the answer to European opera houses.
Along with survivors like the NYC Radio City Hall and Atlanta’s Fox, the Chicago Theatre, is a survivor of the age when going to a movie was an event. As our guide was quick to tell us, the movie Chicago, did not at all use the Chicago Theatre for shooting, except for it’s elaborate marquee. What a shame, as it would tell tales about the city, which was not the point of the movie, I suppose.
The facade is actually a copy of the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile.
With the enthusiasm of a kid in a candy store, our guide filled us in on the French “theme” exclusive in Chicago for this theater and some of the other contemporary theaters. The Oriental (below) is still intact, for example, but for performing arts. Another the Medinah Temple (once owned by the Shriners) is a furniture store, with the exterior intact.
If you click above, you will see my take on the tour. The care and beauty of these old buildings are relics in time. Museums, of sorts, because they reflect a way of life that is no longer, kind of like dressing up in the 50s and 60s to take a plane ride. In irony, a lot of the world changed because of the impact of hippie counterculture in the 60s. The irony, it was the hippies (many evolving into yuppiedom by the late 70s and 80s), who fought for and loved these old structures more than anyone else. Often, the people most vocal about these buildings not being destroyed.
“You have seen the skyscrapers of Chicago” says our young enthusiastic guide, holding up a picture, “Remember this one?” As I expected, it was the proposed building for this site. So here we stand now, gawkers of the past. Here is a mini-Versailles like chapel in the lobby. The walls inside pink and white. The theater an array of imitation French Rococo and all that red, reminiscent of the Paris Opera.
. . .or up in the balcony, the scale is amazing.
The unused projection booth
One of the highlights was the dressing room backstage, here Bob Newhart gives thanks to the theater.
The original architects having saved this for our eyes, by talking the then owners of the structure in the 50s into not destroying, but merely covering the old interior to make it more “modern” for the younger audiences. It did not matter, television changed a way of life in the 50s, as did suburbia, and later perceived downtown crime in the 70s and 80s. Who frequented movie palaces, when you could go to your own theater around the corner. Later you could rent the movie you wanted, now on demand or streaming. We have become a world of screens, the silver screen no more.