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Life Span: 1889-Present
Location: Northwest corner of South Michigan Avenue and Congress Street
Architect: Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan
Fronts 362 feet on Congress Street, 187 feet on Michigan Boulevard, and 161 feet on Wabash Avenue. It covers one and a half acres, and the height of the main building is 145 feet, with 10 stories and basement . The spacious tower, however, is 17 or more stories in in height, and measures 270 feet from the ground. The walls are of granite and Bedford stone to the top, and the interior is of steel, terra cotta, and other non-combustible materials. A hotel (to which the Extension belongs), the largest theater in the world, a recital hall, 4 stores, and 136 offices go to make up the building.
There are 13 passenger elevators, and 3 entrances to as many parts of the structure. It is estimated that in the mosaics of this great fabric are 50,000,000 pieces of marble, all placed by hand. The builders used 17,000,000 brick, 25 miles of pipes, 60,000 square feet of plate-glass, and 12,000 electric lights. The theater will admit 8,000 people at a convention, 6,000 at a lecture, 5,000 at an opera. The dining-hall of the hotel is 175 feet long. The Auditorium was the conception of Ferdinand W. Peck, who, as president of the Chicago Auditorium Association, brought it to commercial success.
Ground was broken in 1887. The Republican National Convention of June, 1888, was held in the theater, and the finished building was dedicated by President Harrison during the holidays of 1889-90. Cost, $3,200,000.
The building was equipped with the first central air conditioning system and the theater was the first to be entirely lit by incandescent light bulbs.
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra debuted on October 16, 1891, and made its home in the Auditorium Theatre until moving to Orchestra Hall in 1904.
The opera company renting the accommodation moved to the Civic Opera House in 1929, and the Auditorium Theatre closed during the Great Depression. In 1941, it was taken over by the city of Chicago to be used as a World War II servicemen’s center. By 1946, Roosevelt University moved into the Auditorium Building, but the theater was not restored to its former splendor.
In 2001, a major restoration of the Auditorium Theatre was begun to return the theater to its original colors and finishes.
Interior of The Auditorium, 1890
Interior of The Auditorium, About 1890
How the Mauretania would look if placed next to the Auditorium Hotel and Annex. The ship was used for the British Cunard Line and was the fastest ship upon her first launch. She was used from 1906 to 1934.
Construction of The Auditorium, 1889
Construction of The Auditorium, 1888
The great audience room was thrown open to the public on the evening of December 9, 1889. The occasion is not likely to be forgotten by those who were fortunate to secure admission.
The following programme was given
Triumphal Fantasie, Theodore Dubois.
Composed for this occasion for grand organ and orchestra.
Clarence Eddy, Organist.
Address, Hon. Dewitt C. Cregier, Mayor of Chicago.
Address, Ferd. W. Peck.
Cantata, Frederick Grant Gleason.
Composed for this occasion and sung; by a chorus of five hundred voices under the direction of William L. Tomlins.
Address, President Harrison.
Address, Hon. John S. Runnells, of Chicago.
Home, Sweet Home, Madame Adelina Patti.
America, Apollo Club.
Concert Fantasie, Op. 33, F. De La Tombelle.
Composed expressly for the dedication of the Auditorium organ, Clarence Eddy.
The Heavens are Telling, Josef Haydn
Address (Dedicatory), Hon. Jos. W. Fifer, Governor of Illinois.
Hallelujah Chorus from The Messiah. Handel
The presence of President Harrison gave a national color to the festivities. Patti received a tremendous ovation when she stepped in front, on the arm of Manager Milward Adams, and as the last note of “Home, Sweet Home” watted through the space the demonstrations were extraordinary. When midnight came the vast audience dispersed and the most brilliant scene ever enacted in an American theatre remained fixed forever in their memory.
A remarkably prosperous season of Italian opera followed, under the management of Henry E. Abbey, which lasted four weeks. Next to the appearances of Patti was, perhaps, the debut of the renowned Tamagno, the tenor in Verdi’s Othello, the first complete performance of which was given in America during this season. A few weeks later the same company returned for a supplementary ssason of two weeks, and the success of the first series was repeated. The Apollo Club gave its first concert on December 25th. A grand charity ball, attended by the wealth and fashion of the city, was held on the 9th of January, 1890.
9 December 1889
Ben Hur – The Illini – 26 January 1905
Towering triumphantly as the most massive and picturesque as well as the most impressive dramatic spectacle in the history of the world, Ben Hur will seek new honors at the vast Auditorium Theatre, Chicago, on Monday evening, February 6th , when a limited engagement will be inaugurated . Never before in the history of Chicago amusements has an announcement of a theatrical production created such a sensation, for it means something new to the public to see a dramatic spectacle on such a colossal scale.
It is the intention of the Klaw & Erlanger Co., who directed the management of Gen. Wallace’s great play, to use every inch of space that the big Auditorium stage admits of, in arranging the scenic environment. When it is taken into consideration that the stage of the Auditorium theatre is the largest in the world, there can be no question about the stupendousness of the staging. Over 400 persons are to appear in the interpretation, and in the great race scene, which is the “theatrical” feature of this great religious romance, five chariots drawn by twenty horses will be utilized in the struggle for supremacy between Ben Hur, Messala and the other contestants.
The advance sale of seats for the Ben Hur engagement will open on Thursday morning, February 2nd. Mr. Mllward Adams, manager of the Auditorium, will give prompt attention to orders for seats through the malls, It accompanied with remittance and a self-addressed stamped envelope.
Auditorium Exterior During Republican National Convention
Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper
Auditorium Interior During Republican National Convention
Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper
Symphony of Time
Ticket 1888 Republican National Convention
Cable trains passing on Wabash Avenue in front of the Auditorium Building.
The Inter Ocean, November 24, 1906
Auditorium, the name which has been famous, which for Chicago was as the Waldorf-Astoria, after the first of the year will no longer be associated with a hotel.
“The Congress Hotel and Annex” is the title by which the group of tall hotel buildings on Michigan avenue, to the south of Congress street, will be designated. The name Auditorium and Auditorium Annex will be dropped. It is likely that the huge pile to the north of Congress street, which contains the Auditorium theater and Auditorium hotel, will be turned into an office building, for which it is admirably fitted, although the theater will be retained.
The Congress Hotel company, which now operates the Auditorium and Auditorium Annex in conjunction, leases the Auditorium, but owns the Annex and the new addition to the latter. The lease expires at the end of the year and will not be renewed. Under such conditions the Congress Hotel company is precluded from employing the word Auditorium.
While the main title of the group of three hotel buildings to the south of Congress street will be the Congress hotel, the word Annex will be appended. The word Annex is too valuable to part with, since it was invented by the public in the first instance and has been given in the public mind a special significance. Hence, with the completion of the third structure, popularly known as the Annex, to the Annex, of the Annex, the new name and title in full will read “The Congress Hotel and Annex.”