Auditorium Theatre, c.1890

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.

Frank Lloyd Wright, who worked as a draftsman on the project, said the Auditorium is, “The greatest room for music and opera in the world-bar none.”

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 Mrs. Beatrice T. Spachner and a group of dedicated civic leaders, an independent council was formed to raise funds to restore the theatre to much of its original splendor. Thanks to their efforts, the theatre reopened in October 1967.

The Auditorium Theatre is proud to be the resident home of The Joffrey Ballet. Other recent presentations at the Auditorium include The Bolshoi Ballet, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, The Eifman Ballet, Wilco, REM, Bob Dylan, The Producers, and Movin’ Out. The Auditorium Theatre is also extremely proud to have hosted the national tours of Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera, Miss Saigon, and the epic musical Show Boat.

Currently, the Auditorium hosts a variety of events, from dance to music, from Broadway to rock concerts. Keeping true to Adler and Sullivan’s vision, the Auditorium Theatre truly does welcome all of Chicago.

The theatre, created to hold up to 4,200 audience members, today can hold 3,877 people during a single performance.

The Auditorium Building occupies half a city block, on Congress Parkway from Michigan to Wabash Avenues.


Adler & Sullivan Building Drawings
Adler & Sullivan Building Drawings

Ferdinand Peck, a wealthy Chicago businessman, incorporated the Chicago Auditorium Association in December 1886 to develop what he wanted to be 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 violent and fatal demonstration at an open market near Des Plaines Ave. and Randolph St. for the eight hour work day occurred 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, whom Peck had worked with on the Chicago Opera Festival in 1885, as architects on the building.

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 cost of the Auditorium reached above $3,200,000, making it the costliest building in the city. The Auditorium’s fortress-like exterior echoed 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. The interior is lavishly decorated with marble mosaics, art glass, murals and plaster reliefs in organic ornamentation.

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

Original Auditorium Theatre Information Sheet
Original Auditorium Theatre Information Sheet

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
Auditorium Hotel Postcard
Auditorium Hotel Postcard

The Auditorium Theatre as recorded today

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