The Auditorium

The Auditorium
50 East Congress Parkway
430 S. Michigan Avenue
1889/2012

The Auditorium, like many other buildings in Chicago, has a fascinating history.  The Auditorium consists of two parts, the Building and the Theatre.  Completed in 1889 at a cost of $3, 200,000, the Auditorium was designed by Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan (Adler & Sullivan).  Ostensibly, a very young Frank Lloyd Wright worked as a draftsman at the firm, and may have lent a hand in the design.

To truly appreciate the Auditorium…one must understand its roots.  The great Chicago Fire took place in 1871 and had a major influence on all future construction in Chicago.  After that, many new fire safety codes and special requirements were initiated so that future fires would not be as devastating. Plaster material was used instead of wood on the interior walls and ceilings and stones were used on exterior walls.  Because of these and other innovations, it was one of the first theatres to have both heating and air-conditioning, which allowed it to be used year-round.  And through the use of 11 generators, was one of the first buildings to use electricity with incandescent light bulbs. The original concept was to create a multi-purpose facility integrating a hotel, office space and an opera theater. Primary reasons for using Adler & Sullivan were that Dankmar Adler had a reputation as an extraordinary technical sound engineer and Louis Sullivan had an ingenious sense for architectural ornamentation.

The concept was to have the hotel front on Michigan Avenue so that its guests could look out over Lake Michigan (now Roosevelt University) and the office entrance on Wabash Avenue to the west.  The entrance to the Auditorium was to the south on East Congress Parkway.  The sound systems and acoustics of the theatre were some of the best in the world! The Chicago Symphony Orchestra debuted on October 16, 1891, and made its home in the Auditorium Theatre.

For many years the Auditorium was a profitable mixed-use development.  However, in 1883 many new hotels were built in downtown Chicago in anticipation of the World’s Fair.  These new hotels had bathrooms in each guest room, making the Auditorium hotel outdated and less desirable.  In 1904 the Chicago Symphony moved out of the Auditorium and into its new home at Orchestra Hall.  The Chicago Opera Company moved out in 1929 to The Civic Opera House.  In the 30’s the owner’s tried to demolish the building, but that cost was more than the land was worth.  During those tough depression years, the Auditorium went bankrupt and closed in 1941.

In 1942, the Auditorium building was taken over by the USO and used as a service center for WW II personnel.  22 million servicemen used the facility between 1942 and 1945.  In 1946 Roosevelt University moved into the Auditorium building, but the theatre was left vacant.  The University transformed part of the building into a library and classrooms.  Through the magnificent efforts of many civic leaders and independent fundraisers, the theater was to be restored to its original beauty.  Architect Harry Weese offered his professional services free to the city of Chicago and its people…and on October 31, 1967 the Auditorium Theatre reopened as a premier rock venue.

Some of the world’s greatest musicians and performers played the theatre…people like… Jimi Hendrix, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, The Beach Boys, The Doors, The Who, Janis Joplin, Bette Midler, James Taylor, Ray Charles, Duke Ellington, Nina Simone, B.B. King, Miles Davis, and many, many more.

In 2001, a major restoration was undertaken to return the theatre to its original colors and finishes. Today, the Auditorium hosts a number of different venues ranging from music concerts to dance performances.

 

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