Beaux-Arts Blackstone Theatre Going Strong After 105 Years

Interior of the Blackstone Theatre.

Interior of the Blackstone Theatre.

The venerable DePaul University Merle Reskin Theatre at 60 East Balbo Drive was built in 1910 at a cost of $500,000. That’s about what a two-bedroom condo will run you in the same neighborhood these days. But, adjusted for inflation, that’s only about $12.25 million in 2015 dollars.

Detail from the Merle Reskin TheatreThe Reskin Theatre — which was known as the Blackstone Theatre during most of its life — is a six-story, Beaux-Arts style classic theatre. It was one of the featured locations during this year’s Chicago Architecture Foundation Open House Chicago.

The theatre was designed by Benjamin Howard Marshall and Charles Eli Fox. It seats 1,333 and has an interior finish of French walnut and gold. Originally, it was connected by a bridge on the sixth floor to the Blackstone Hotel (636 South Michigan Avenue).

Over the years, the Blackstone has hosted a number of notable performances, including some that were clearly ahead of their time. In the 1930s, the W.P.A. Federal Theatre Project presented two experimental plays by local playwrights that were censored.

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The state administrator of the W.P.A. closed one play on opening night: “Hymn to the Rising Sun,” which dealt with the brutality of chain gangs.

In the 1940s, the Blackstone stage had notable Hollywood actors like Deborah Kerr, Helen Hayes and Mary Martin. In the ‘60s, Myrna Loy took the stage. In the ‘70s, Katherine Hepburn performed at the Blackstone, and in 1979, Henry Fonda performed in “First Monday in October.”

 

 

Location: 60 East Balbo Drive, South Loop

Bill Motchan

Author: Bill Motchan

Bill Motchan is a writer and photographer, and a former resident of the West Loop. He can be reached at bill@ChicagoArchitecture.org.

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