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McVicker’s Theater IV
Life Span: 1892-1922
Location: Madison Street, Between State & Dearborn
Architect: Adler & Sullivan
The Inter Ocean, September 2, 1890
Though a banking firm Mr. J. H. McVicker begun the sale of stock of the McVicker Theater Company Building, under which corporate name McVicker’s Theater will be rebuilt. Mr. McVicker will retain the majority of stock, and will, if it be desired, serve as president of the organization. Mr. McVicker said in an interview said:
- Yes; I have decided to restore ‘McVicker’s Theater,’ and in reaching this conclusion I believe I meet the desire of the citizens of Chicago. Personally I should prefer retirement, but I am impressed to believe that I shall live longer by continuing an active life and there is so much in the world worthy of appreciation that I am in no hurry to change my form of enjoying it. Chicago is the second city in the Union and can not have too many places if amusement for the welfare and the comfort of its citizens and the strangers constantly within its gates—there may be too many for their own good—but that is another question. I am a a free-trader. I shall not change the form of the auditorium for there is no better in existence, nor shall I change the scheme of color in the decoration which has been universally admired. I shall make improvements of a substantial kind and add to the comfort of my patrons, doing nothing simply for show and glitter in front of the curtain. The brightest form of art is the simplest.
There is no such thing as making a theater fire-proof against the attacks of incendiaries who do their work in the quiet of the night. To make it water-proof against the efforts of the fire department is another possibility, but I shall have a theater in which no fire can make headway during a performance and which from its comforts and conveniences will be panic-proof. I will make improvements on the stage and have secured the services of my old machinist John Burton, who will carry my desires working under the direction of my architects, Adler & Sullivan.
Inter Ocean, March 22, 1891
It is the custom to describe each new theater opened in Chicago as one of the handsomest in the country. The word is convenient and saves a deal of trouble to the hurried writer, who wishes at the same time to do justice to the merits of the new claimant to popular favor. But the term is neither idly nor injudiciously used to summarize the excellence and beauties of McVicker’s re-builded play house, inasmuch as the auditorium, into which the public is soon to be received, surpasses in artistic treatment and charm and in convenience of arrangement the theater destroyed, which was at the time the most popular play house in the West, if not in America. A complete transformation of plan has been effected, with a success greater than the expectation of the veteran manager, who was much in doubt if the house could be restored in a way to equal its former attractiveness. Not only is the house itself new in itself, but it presents a novel design in the construction of auditorium and the first pleasurable surprise of spectators will quickly deepen into admiration as the Egyptian character of the work and the exquisite ornamented features of the treatment are comprehended. The first thing that will arrest the eye is the rich color scheme that begins in deep salmon brown and gradually grows into delicate pink as it ascends along the walls of the ceiling.
A peculiarity of the construction that will invite attention is in the series of deep recesses along the side walls that give a picturesque relief to to the customary regularity besides affording excellent coigns of vantage to that invariable adjunct of large audiences, the standing room contingent. Though this arrangement was necessitated by the projections of the heavy steel columns that form the support of the upper structure, the artistic result is such that architects may hereafter avail themselves of the idea in planning new theaters. After the audience is seated a conspicuous feature of the house will be noted in the absence of upper boxes, that usual blemish upon the symmetry of theaters having been done away with by the substitution of beautiful symblemaqtic panels in bas relief.
View of the Auditorium From the Stage.
The proscenium is indeed superb. The eye is led up to this by all the lines of the house that here concentrate in highest excellence of design. Though it is very simple in its general outline the proscenium resembles a large, square frame with top and sides sloping toward the stage, and at the curtain line inclosong a rich and rather massive semi-circular arch. At the base of this frame on each side, and forming an organic part of the design, are placed the proscenium boxes, six in all; above these, and occupying the space usually given to upper boxes, are the recessed panels containing the bas reliefs. The entire surface of the proscenium is covered with the most highly wrought plastic ornamentation that can be imagined, exuberant and seemingly endless in variety, full of life and flow, graceful and vigorous, with a most charming play of surface and of light and shade. It would require careful attention to count the number of these designs and more than ordinary analytical power to separate each creation into its component parts. The execution of these traceries is beyond all praise, for they are given a character that allies them rather to sculpture than to carvings, and makes them fitting comparisons for the two bas reliefs. These latter are fine examples of monumental art. They are companion pieces, and are locally historical, one of them representing La Salle’s triumphant march through Illinois, the other, and sad one, the massacre of Fort Dearborn. Such is the art of composition displayed in this beautiful proscenium frame—one of the richest that ever held stage picture.
The box scheme that supplements the proscenium is the most distinctly Egyptian feature of the house, the imposing columns that mark the divisions being exact reproductions of the antique sculpture, and these, with the square-topped openings, present the appearance of the entrance of some old Thebean temple, and though imposing do not suggest the idea of heaviness or over ornamentation. This is a very unique effect, and will attract attention as a broad departure. In addition to the color tone described, a moderate use of gold leaf enters into the decorations, and an artistic use of electric lights will enhance the rich tine and grateful charm of the auditorium.
The ceiling is divided into heavy indented squares from which depend conical illuminators and light supports, entering into the general scheme of the house in the highest form of art. Behind these perforated cones will be lights that will give a gold glow to the supports that will be seen soft beyond the strong glare of the exterior lights. The carpets and draperies will be in rich maroon, complementing the pervading color tone, which is done in oil. The public will have reason to be proud of this theater, but Messrs. Jefferson and Florence are liable to suffer a divided attention between their work and that of the builders and decorators.
The approaching reopening if McVicker’s recalls to memory that many like occasions that have been notable at that famous place of amusement. Mr. McVicker, in the five buildings he has erected, covering a period of thirty-four years, has expended nearly $800,000 in construction alone, and with furnishings and cost of scenery added the amount will certainly reach over a million dollars.
Observanda, McVicker’s New Theater, 1891
The building, decorating and furnishing accomplished by the following well-known firms :
- Architects, Adler Sullivan; Structural steel work, Albert H. Wolf; mason work, William D. Price; carpenter work, Thos. Clark & Sons ventilation and galvanized iron work, Jas. A. Miller Bro. plumbing and electric light fixtures, E. Baggot painting and decorating Healy Millet ; Carpets and draperies, Marshall Field & Co.; seating, A. H. Andrews & Co.; electric lighting, Chicago Edison Co.; ornamental plaster work, Schneider Kline ornamental iron work, W. H. Chene worth Co. Tile work and fire-proofing, Illinois Terra Cotta Lumber Co.; plain plaster work. The Mackolite Plaster Co. and Michael Cyr bas-relief panels, “La Salle’s March Through Illinois” and “The Fort Dearborn Massacre” Johannes Gelert principal curtain, “Chicago in 1833,” Walter Burridge act drop curtain, ” Reverie of the Future,” Ernest Albert stage construction and mechanism, John Bairstow.
The site on which McVicker’s fortunate beyond country, in being surrounded on both sides and at the theatre stands is any other in the rear with wide alleys and this has been turned to the best possible advantage in the matter of exits. Solid iron stairways run to the ground from every part of the auditorium into these alleys, so that the galleries can be emptied at the same time as the parquette and circles, without the one jostling the other, because each has its separate doors. Not only this, but the interior of the auditorium is so arranged that every aisle leads directly to an exit, and these are so plentiful on every floor, that there is absolutely no danger to be apprehended from a rush to the doors, should the house be crowded to suffocation.
A Partial View of the Grand Foyer and Promenade of McVicker’s New Theater, Madison Street.
This feature of the theatre leads one naturally to observe another hardly less important, the ventilating and heating arrangements. That was achieved after much thoughtful consideration, by the Jennings process, a novel, and as it has proved to be, a most successful plan. The ventilating machinery is placed in a tower on a high building across the court, where che upper current of air is taken in, forced into the house through apertures in the roof, concealed by a series of pretty ornaments, forming elegant vases or rosettes. The pure air is then drawn downward through the house by means of vast exhaust fans, and passed through vents into the alley. The effect of this system can only be appreciated by those who have experienced it. Take a seat in the gallery or any of the upper parts of the house, when it is crowded, and you will find the atmosphere as fresh and pure in one as in the other. There is absolutely no appreciable difference in this respect between the gallery and the dress circle or the boxes.
BELOW THE STAGE.
So much and more the public sees, but McVicker’s theatre did not gain its national celebrity from the grandeur of its auditorium alone. Much of its reputation comes from its superiority of conditions of which the general theatre goer is ignorant. It has the best regulated stage of the American theatres, and underneath the stage one finds the same degree of order, regularity and perfection of service as is seen in every other department of the building. This is the laboratory, so to speak, where the “effects” we have been noting are evolved.
Engine, Boiler, and Dynamo Room.
Here is the machinery which generates that wondrous force which has become such an agent in the production of the miracles of modern times. How simple it all looks for a giant of such potency a boiler, some wheels revolving with blinding rapidity, some belts, which you don’t need to go too near, certain indicators, regulators, annunciators, etc. , and a man with intelligent eyes and clear brain guiding the whole. He can tell by means of certain simple looking instruments precisely how his forces are operating on the stage or in any part of the theatre. There is no heat, nor muss nor fuss, but somehow one becomes conscious that some mighty power is working to produce all that splendor that is made manifest yonder in the upper spheres. Here are the heating and lighting apparatus, so important a feature in the arrangements, with the powerful dynamos and the tremendous Heine boilers, the endless machinery of the electric light plants, a region of energy and action, from which has been removed every element of danger to the audience sitting complacently above, watching with interest the effects produced from below.
The Fly Galleries.
There is no portion of the stage world more bewildering to the stranger than the “fly gallery” with its myriad ropes and multitudinous pullies, and in McVciker’s new theatre the bewilderment would be the greater for there being two of these galleries, whereas most theatres have but one. The importance of this department can be realized only when there is a production of more than ordinary magnitude, the spectacular piece with its innumerable changes of scene, offering the best opportunity. It seems a marvel how a few men, comparatively, can master the seemingly interminable intricacies of that vast net-work of ropes and guys, and one beholds with astonishment great sheets of scenery gliding down and fitting into place, and sees that these operators who stand by the ropes have each a section of the “fly plot” stuck up before him, and he keeps one eye on that, and the other on the lookout for the signal which is given from below. The whole thing proceeds with the regularity of the works of a clock. The audience in front is looking at the dial plate. They are enjoying the effects produced by a set of machinery more various and complicated than that of the clock maker. It may not, perhaps, enhance the enjoyment of the spectator of some pretty transformation scene to consider what an amount of skilled and trained work is employed in its production. Yet to many people, the operations going on behind all the glitter and glory of the scene on the stage would aflford a most entertaining and instructive study.
The Trap Room.
From the fly gallery to the trap room is quite a long step, but the two departments, far enough apart in point of space, are intimately associated, and here the same discipline, precision and watchfulnesss is observed. Any one can readily comprehend the importance of these requirements in this subterranean part of the arrangements.
Midway between these two spheres hangs the paint frame, a spacious platform swinging on ropes near the rear of the building, where the work of the scenic artist is brought to completion. This is a moving studio that possesses a wondrous fascination, as well it may, for it has been the cradle of many a brilliant genius, some of the greatest artists of the age having served their apprenticeship on the frame, and there learned to produce their choicest efforts.
Chicago, Sept. 26, 1833
Pottowatomies Ceding Territory to United States
Painted By Walter Burridge
Chicago Tribune, June 8, 1920
For the fourth time Chicago is going to have a brand new McVicker’s theater—to cost $2,000,000 and to be combined with a twenty-one story office building. Chicago’s historic playhouse, the third oldest in America in point of name, which has burned twice, is going to disappear this time before the wrecker’s pickax and shovel. The newest McVicker’s will have around 3,000 seats. It now has 1,813.
McVickers Theatre IV
Madison Street, Between State & Dearborn
Robinson Fire Map 1886
McVickers Theatre IV
Madison Street, Between State & Dearborn
Sanborn Fire Map
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