151 West Randolph Street
Originally Known as "The New Palace"
The Palace Theatre opened at the comer of Randolph and LaSalle Streets in Chicago on October 4, 1926. Designed by legendary theatre architects George and Cornelius W. Rapp, the brothers also responsible for the design of the Chicago and Oriental Theatres, the building was commissioned by Emil and Karl Eitel. The Palace served as the central unit of their $12 million "Eitel Block Project," which also included the 22-story Metropolitan office building and The New Bismarck Hotel.
Originally the theatre was named "The New Palace," so as to avoid confusion with approximately ten other Chicago theatres which bore the Palace name. The theatre's interior featured a splendor previously unseen in Chicago - a breathtaking vision inspired by the palaces of Fontainebleau and Versailles. The theatre's distinctive characteristics included a lobby richly appointed in huge, decorative mirrors and breche violet and white marble, which swept majestically through a succession of lobbies and foyers; great wall surfaces enhanced with gold leaf and wood decorations; 2,500 plush, roomy seats; spectacular crystal chandeliers; a "cosmetique salon" where women received free beauty parlor service and scented cigarettes; and a stage sufficiently large enough to house the greatest productions of the day.
Flagship of the Orpheum Circuit
The theatre was originally opened as the flagship of vaudeville's legendary Orpheum Circuit, a chain of 50 theatres throughout the United States and Canada which boasted "the greatest assemblage of stars in the world of vaudeville." The program for the inaugural performance featured such diverse talents as "Gracielia and Theodore in a spectacular dancing novelty entitled Nights of Love," "Jerry and Her Baby Grands," "Internationally Famous Grand Opera Dramatic Soprano Odale Careno," Japanese acrobats "The Kitaros," and, as the top-billing "vaudeville's favorite comic," Will Mahoney. The theatre was known as a "two-a-day house," as each "bill" at the Palace was performed twice daily, at 2:15 and 8:15 p.m.; admission cost 50 cents. The Chicago Tribune's critic proclaimed the Palace, "The most ideal theatre in this country or abroad."
Among the stars believed to have played the Palace in its early years are Jimmy Durante, Mae West, Jack Benny, Sophie Tucker and Bob Hope. Despite the popularity of such acts, audiences in the late 1920s and early 1930s had begun to lose interest in vaudeville, and in 1931, the theatre was converted into a movie palace, initially presenting films with live stage shows, then eventually showing only movies.
Talking Pictures in Cinerama
When movie audiences began staying home to watch television in the 1950s, theatre managers, hoping to attract larger audiences, booked occasional Broadway shows, such as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes starring Carol Charming. To win their audiences back, movie studios began experimenting with faddish techniques. The Palace was fitted with special equipment to show films in Cinerama, a wide-screen technique which required three synchronized 35mm projectors and a multi-channel, directional sound system. Although only a few films were made using this process, they helped the Palace retain its reputation as one of Chicago's premiere cinemas, and audiences continued to come to the theatre to view such high-profile films as My Fair Lady and Patton.
The Bismarck Theatre
During the mid-1970s, as movie audiences increasingly found their entertainment in shopping malls and cineplexes, the management of the Bismarck Hotel transformed the auditorium into a banquet hall by removing the seats on the orchestra level, and bringing the floor flush with the stage. In 1984, the theatre, now renamed the Bismarck Theatre, was converted into a rock venue, opening with a performance by the band, Missing Persons. Later that year, during a performance by the band Frankie Goes to Hollywood, a portion of the elevated floor collapsed under the weight of the dancing fans, causing singer Holly Johnson to quip, "Tonight, we witness the sinking of the Bismarck." (No one was injured.) The headline in the following Monday's Chicago Sun-Times read "Bismarck floor collapse more exciting than band."
The Magnificently Restored Cadillac Palace
In 1999, the theatre underwent a complete restoration and renovation. Theatre lobbies have been restored to their original grandeur, including restoration of the stone work and original plaster, reconstructed to blend with its historical context. Renamed the Cadillac Palace, the theatre retains the elegance, sophistication and intimacy of the original theatre while melding state-of-the-art technological innovations for modern productions and the personal comfort demands of today's patrons. In 1926, a critic of the day proclaimed the Palace, "The most ideal theatre in this country or abroad." With the reopening of the magnificently restored Cadillac Palace theatre, these words once again ring true.
More Cadillac Palace facts, figures and architectural highlights.
Companies involved in the Cadillac Palace restoration and renovation.
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