Origins & Stats

Brief History | Timeline | Origins and Stats The Creators Architecture Art of the Auditorium

The Auditorium Theatre is the crowning achievement of famed architects Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan. It opened in 1889 and was immediately acclaimed as one of the most beautiful and functional theatres in the world. Its architectural integrity and perfect acoustics are internationally recognized.

Acclaimed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who worked as a draftsman on the building and theatre, noted that the Auditorium is:

“The greatest room for music and opera in the world — bar none.”
– Frank Lloyd Wright

Closed at the onset of World War II, the Auditorium Theatre was neglected and abandoned for many years, slipping into oblivion and decay. Through the valiant efforts of one audacious woman, Mrs. Beatrice T. Spachner,and a group of dedicated civic leaders, an independent council was formed to raise funds to restore the theatre to its original splendor. Thanks to their efforts, the theatre reopened in October 1967.

Throughout its history, the Auditorium has hosted countless dance companies, musicians, speakers, and events. Recent performances include Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Ballet Folklórico de México, David Byrne, Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons, Ballet Nacional de Cuba, Neil Young, and Death Cab for Cutie.   The Auditorium Theatre is also extremely proud to have hosted the national tours of Les Misérables, The Phantom of the Opera, Miss Saigon, Show Boat, and The Color Purple.

Staying true to the vision of the theatre’s founders, the Auditorium truly does welcome all of Chicago.

Origins

Ferdinand Peck, a wealthy Chicago businessman, incorporated the Chicago Auditorium Association in December 1886 to develop what he envisioned as the world’s largest and grandest theatre, one that would rival such institutions as the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City.

Chicago in the late 1800s was a leading center for political idealism and labor activism. One particularly important demonstration, fighting for an eight-hour work day, occurred at an open market near Des Plaines Ave. and Randolph St. on May 4, 1886. This incident, which became known as the Haymarket Riot, further inspired Ferdinand Peck to create a venue that embodied the democratic ideals that he believed could bring art to all of the people in Chicago.

Peck persuaded many Chicago philanthropists to join the Association, including Marshall Field, Edson Keith, and George Pullman. On December 22, 1886, the Association hired the renowned architectural firm of Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan (with whom Peck had worked on the Chicago Opera Festival in 1885) to create the building and the theatre.

Adler and Sullivan designed a tall Romanesque-style structure with thick load-bearing outer walls. When completed, it was the tallest building in Chicago and the largest building in the country. The construction of the Auditorium cost more than $3,200,000, making it the most expensive building in the city. The Auditorium’s fortress-like exterior echoes the strength and power of its purpose. The simplicity and boldness of the exterior is contrasted with the intricate detail and design of the theatre’s interior, which is lavishly decorated with marble mosaics, art glass, murals and plaster reliefs in organic ornamentation.

Excavation began on January 28, 1887, and the Auditorium Theatre officially opened in December 1889.The Auditorium Building’s design included a 4,200 seat auditorium, originally intended primarily for the production of opera, surrounded by over 130 offices; a first-class, 400-room hotel, a bar, and restaurants.

The Auditorium Theatre as recorded in 1889:

Height of tower 270 ft.
Dimensions of tower 40 ft x 70 ft
Size of hotel 10 stories
Size of tower 17 stories (7 stories above hotel)
Weight of building 110,000 tons
Seats in theatre 4,200
Number of balconies 3
Pieces of mosaic tile 55,000,000
Electric lights in theatre 3,500
Size of stage 70 ft x 110 ft
Size of theatre 118 ft x 246 ft
Height of stage 95 ft

The Auditorium Theatre as recorded in 1889:

Number of seats 3,877
Size of stage 61 ft deep X 97 ft wide
Proscenium dimensions 47 ft wide x 35 ft high
May be expanded to 75 ft wide x 40 ft high by raising reducing curtain
Orchestra pit (three sizes) 342 square feet, 925 square feet and 1,327 square feet