The view of the theater from the stage. There are exactly 3,901 seats in total. (Photo courtesy of John Boehm and the Auditorium Theater.)

Auditorium Theatre celebrates 125th anniversary with landmark event

Auditorium Theatre celebrates 125th anniversary with landmark event

By Sara Romano and Julie Woon

Frank Lloyd Wright called the Auditorium Theatre, “The greatest room for music and opera in the world – bar none.” Wright, who worked as a draftsman on the project alongside its famous architects Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan, might be shocked to see the historical theater host the NFL Draft this weekend, but there is no doubt that the event will showcase one of Chicago’s most prized venues.

Located in the Auditorium Building on the corner of Congress Parkway and Michigan Avenue, the Auditorium Theatre was conceived by its developer, Chicago businessman Ferdinand Peck, as a grand music hall of the same magnitude and scale as New York’s Metropolitan Opera House. The building was purchased by Roosevelt University in 1946 and today remains the home of the Joffrey Ballet. It was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1975.

The widely acclaimed theater has welcomed to its stage a variety of famous names, including Booker T. Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, Aretha Franklin, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Sinatra and The Beach Boys. Today, it hosts a diverse offering of theater and dance performances, as well as daily tours of the historic building.

Auditorium Theatre Aerial Drone Footage from Auditorium Theatre on Vimeo.

Constructed:
1889

Capacity:
4,000

Architectural Firm:
Adler and Sullivan

Restoration:
From 2000-02, the Auditorium underwent a massive, two-phase renovation project. The undertaking included repairing the ceiling arches of the theater to the original color and finish, the complete removal and reconstruction of the main stage and the addition of many modern amenities.

Notable Attributes:

  • At the time of construction, the Auditorium was the tallest building in Chicago. Weighing in at over 110,000 tons, it was also the first multi-use building ever designed.
  • Designed in a distinctly American style – simple, massive and dignified – rejecting the European influences popular at the time
  • 24-karat gold-leafed ceiling arches highlight Sullivan’s gold and white palette
  • Sullivan’s ornate stencil patterns
  • Floor and wall mosaics and murals by Charles Holloway and Albert Fleury. The Proscenium Arch Mural was designed by the 29-year-old Holloway. At the apex of the arch are painted the words, “The utterance of life is a song, the symphony of nature.” The mural depicts the humanity throughout difference stages of life through song. In addition to the central mural, there are smaller nature-themed paintings on the north and south walls by Fleury.