The Chicago Theatre

When Balaban and Katz opened The Chicago Theatre on October 26, 1921, eager and hopeful moviegoers swarmed State Street. Lines formed as early as two o’clock, a full three and a half hours before the scheduled opening. By six, crowds wrapped around the block, and a force of two hundred patrolmen and thirty mounted sergeants tried to keep the masses in order. Chicago was simply mad for movies, and Balaban and Katz’s reputation for grandeur was well-established with their Central Park, Riviera, and Tivoli theaters on the west, north, and south sides of the city. 

Chicago’s fascination with moving pictures began with the Columbian Exposition when they first saw Anschutz’s Elektrotachyscope at the 1893 World’s Fair. It didn’t take long before Chicagoans would invent projectors: George K. Spoor the Kinodrome and William N. Selig the Selig Polyscope. Soon nickelodeons provided inexpensive entertainment. According to The Chicago Theatre’s Chicago Landmark Designation Report, in 1902 there was one “five-cent theater” in the city directory. By 1913, there were 606. Most of these were storefront theaters; they were easy enough to set up since you could buy everything you needed in the Sears, Roebuck catalog.

Read more about this landmark in Living Landmarks of Chicago.

Completed: 1921
Architects: Rapp & Rapp
Address: 175 N. State St.

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Sources for The Chicago Theatre

This is a selection of specific sources used to provide details while researching this landmark. Additional sources, including books and websites, can be found on the Resources page.

  • Balaban and Katz HIstorical Foundation
  • “Barney Balaban Dead at 83.” New York Times, 8 Mar 1971.
  • Chicago Landmark Designation Report
  • Illinois. Division of Historic Sites, and Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. Division of Preservation Services. Historic Illinois. [Springfield]: Illinois Dept. of Conservation, Division of Historic Sites, 1978.
  • Martin, Douglas. “Elmer Balaban, Cinema Magnate, Dies at 92.” New York Times, 9 Nov 2001.
  • Miller, Mary K. “It’s a Wurlitzer.” Smithsonian Magazine, Apr 2002.
  • National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form
  • Pugh, Ralph. “Chicago’s Theatre.” Chicago History. Fall 2001.
  • Silverman, Sime. “As to A. J. Balaban.” Variety, Feb 1929.
  • “The World’s Wonder Theatre: The Chicago Theatre.” Historic Illinois. Vol. 12 No. 3 Oct 1989.
  • Zukor, Adolph, 1873-1976. The Public Is Never Wrong: the Autobiography of Adolph Zukor. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1953.

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