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October 26: The Chicago Theater

October 26, 2013
uptowntheatretheaterchicagoThe 3,880 seat Chicago Theater, proclaimed the “Wonder Theatre of the World” for its immensity and neo-Baroque French revival style, was opened by Abe and Barney Balaban and Sam and Morris Katz on this date in 1921. It would serve as the gem of a chain of twenty-eight Balaban-Katz theaters in Chicago and over one hundred elsewhere in the Midwest. The first film shown was The Sign on the Door, but the show also featured a fifty-piece orchestra, a huge Wurlitzer organ, and a live stage act. The Chicago Theater pioneered the use of luxurious, palace-like settings, air-conditioning, and other amenities to attract a mass audience to the movies. It operated for forty years, and became famous also for its live jazz shows throughout the 1920s and ’30s, and live appearances by film stars, including the Marx Brothers, Sophie Tucker, and many others. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places on June 6, 1979. “[M]aking these people happy and gay; to release them even for a moment from the depression of their drab homes and usually burdened lives. That was my big aim and it dominated my every thought.” —A.J. (Abe) Balaban