Building 51 | Building 51 | c. 1920’s diminutive american ornamental cast iron interior historic oriental theater theater seat end cover plate with original polychromatic enameled finish – rapp & rapp, architects
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c. 1920’s diminutive american ornamental cast iron interior historic oriental theater theater seat end cover plate with original polychromatic enameled finish – rapp & rapp, architects



Chicago Buildings

About This Item

all original c. 1920’s antique american ornamental cast iron interior oriental theater auditorium chair or seat end panel fabricated by the heywood-wakefield company, menominee, mich. the highly ornamented diminutive cast iron cover plate was salvaged from an original theater seat end removed from the auditorium when the seating arrangement was reconfigured during restoration. remarkably, the panel retains the original polychromatic painted or enameled finish applied from the time the theater was built. theater seat ends containing this detachable cover plate were outfitted with incandescent light bulbs used to illuminate the aisles. the slatted bottom or grille was designed to direct the light source downward. the enameled finish remains in good overall condition, with surface wear consistent with age. designed by the notable architectural firm of rapp and rapp, the oriental theatre opened in 1926 as one of many deluxe movie palaces constructed in chicago during the 1920’s and 1930’s. the theater was built on the site of the former iroquois theater (later renamed the colonial theater) which is known for the disastrous fire that occurred there in 1903, claiming over 600 lives in one evening. with an exotic, indian-indochinese-themed auditorium containing over 3200 seats, the magnificent oriental theater was balaban & kat’z second major theater constructed downtown after they opened the chicago theater in 1921. for many decades the oriental held live stage acts, movies and was considered one of chicago’s premier locations for live jazz performances. by the late 1970’s many of the grand movie palaces located in the entertainment district (which was also home to the palace theater, shubert theater, the goodman theatre and the chicago theatre). randolph street was traditionally the center of downtown chicago’s entertainment district until the 1960’s 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) were falling into disrepair and were either demolished or reduced to (and survived by) showing “b-grade” and/or exploitation films attended by younger audiences. on january 3rd, 1980, the theater was finally closed. the lobby space was converted into an electronics store while the grand auditorium sat empty. shuttered for over 15 years, the restored theater reopened october 18, 1998, with a reconfigured seating capacity of 2,253. the restored venue now hosts touring broadway shows. the theater’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 theater’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. the alley behind the theater, containing the back stage door, etc., is considered by many to be one of the most haunted locations in chicago. during the iroquois theater fire, many attendees jumped to their death (there was no functional fire escape platforms at the time) as the fire and smoke rapidly consumed the auditorium. a massive pile of unfortunate victims were recovered from that location shortly after the fire was under control in 1903.