Chicago’s Oriental Theatre has played host to a who’s who of entertainers throughout its long history. Some of the talent who have graced its stage include: George Burns, Cab Calloway, Eddie Cantor, Bing Crosby, Billie Holliday, bob Hope, Al Jolson, Jerry Lewis, Frank Sinatra, The Marx Brothers and The Three Stooges.
This grand, ornate theatre was one of the 200 fascinating locations included in the 2015 Open House Chicago presented by the Chicago Architecture Foundation.
To get the full effect of the bizarre décor inside the Oriental Theatre, may we suggest you stand directly outside the entrance and inhale the fumes from neighboring Garrett Popcorn Shop. The CaramelCrisp fumes will put your head in the right place to grasp the bas relief figurines in the theatre.
You may even begin to sway from side to side and hum Steve Martin’s “King Tut.”
Yes, the Oriental Theatre is full of Egyptian imagery including the goddess Hera (wife AND sister of Zeus). There are also a half dozen places in the theatre where you’ll find the goddess of fertility.
Historians believe these vixens may be looking down from the interior walls of the Oriental because the building was originally an arts center, and the occupants needed a little push to generate creativity.
Certainly, architects Rapp & Rapp pulled out all the stops in their original design. The theatre opened in 1926 as one of the theatres operated by Balaban and Katz. Ushers wearing turbans led guests to their seats. The lobby has enough grandeur to captivate your attention, but once you reach the main theatre floor, the weird décor kicks up even higher, to what’s been described as a “hasheesh-dream.”
In 1978, the theatre was added to the Federal National Registry of Historic Places, but after years of neglect and deterioration, it closed in 1981. There were plans to tear it down and erect a shopping mall, but Mayor Richard M. Daley announced in 1996 that the theatre would be restored. That effort was completed in 1998.