Haverly’s Theater, Columbia Theater, Iroquois Club
Life Span: 1881-1900
Location: NW Corner of Dearborn and Monroe streets
Architect: Oscar Cobb
Chicago Tribune, June 25, 1881
A MODEL THEATER.
Yesterday, for the first time, the completed plans for Haverly’s new theater were submitted to general inspection. M. James Carson, who represents his father’s interest in the building, etc., kindly explained the various sections, describing the interesting features of what will be one of the finest theaters in the world. In every particular the most perfect arrangement has been provided for, and if a liberal expenditure of money, governed by evident taste and intelligence, the people of Chicago may confidently expect to sit inside the beautiful and elaborate auditorium next September. Mr. Oscar Cobb, the architect, has labored most earnestly to plan a building that will embrace the most approved features of modern architecture in combination with some of the better features of another time, whereby a unique and at the same time convenient theater might be fashioned in remarkable style. In this he has succeeded, and Mr. Haverly may well feel elated.
FROM THE FRONT.
The front of the building will be imposingly grand. The first two stories will be finished in decorated iron, the remaining four stories of Lemont stone, polished and sillicated. In the center will rise a tower, with a mansard on the sides. filled with dormer windows. The tower height will be 120 feet from the sidewalk. Directly over the entrance will be a projecting iron canopy, and it has been arranged that a canvas boot shall extend from this when necessary. On each side of the entrance there will be a cluster of electric lights, and at night twelve of these lights will shed their radiance from the building, one being placed in a tower. Entering the building, one will find a capacious vestibule, twenty feet wide, leading to a foyer twenty feet wide and forty feet long. This foyer will be richly furnished, with full-length mirrors at either end. To the right and left of the foyer will be grand stairways leading to the balcony, each eight feet wide, supplied with half-landings, at the sides of which will be statuary. Leading from the principal foyer will be ample corridors around each side of the auditorium, communicating with handsome parlors at the end, one for ladies the other for gentlemen, to be luxuriously furnished. There will be other parlors opening off from the foyer. There will be convenient laboratories.
AUDITORIUM AND BOXES.
The auditorium will be separated into parquette and parquette circle. At the rear of the circle there will be thirteen loges, seating five persons, entered through swinging gates at the rear. At the rear of the parquette, just inside the dividing rail, there will be thirteen Parisian boxes with movable chairs capable of seating five persons. These last-mentioned boxes will be furnished in display style. At the right and left of the parquette are two divisions, described as dress boxes, having a seating capacity of twenty-two. These two boxes are an original study in the construction of theaters, and will doubtless become popular with parties desiring to attend the theater in full dress. From this position both stage and audience can be equally well seen. A little in front will be the proscenium boxes proper, of which there will be two, seating six persons each. Off these boxes will be two reception-rooms, into which the box occupants can retire at will to chat, or, in the case of gentlemen, can enjoy a cigar. These reception-rooms will be furnished like parlors. The remainder of the floor will be in regular tiers. Upon the floor and in the aisles will be laid rich Walton carpets, already selected. The balcony, reached through the foyer, has been cut away at the besides so that the “horseshoe curve” has been quite done away with, a great improvement. At the right and left ends of the sweep are four boxes, the succession of boxes being such that the right line is perfectly observed, and there is no interference with any part of of the house. Above these boxes, completing the entire group, is a central box, which rises into the gallery range, but is reached from the balcony. The gallery which is divided in the center by a rail, is reached by roomy stairs. It is conveniently arranged. One thing decided upon, for which Mr. Haverly deserves thanks, is the reservation of the front rows so that a man with his family may secure seats in advance at a price similar to that paid for seats in any other portion of the gallery. These rows will have open chairs.
Inter Ocean, October 8, 1881
THE IROQUOIS CLUB-HOUSE.
The Iroquois Social Democratic Club has already announced as having secured a suite of rooms on the third floor of Haverty’s yTheater. The suite comprises a dining-room 20×30 feet at the west end of the block; adjoining on the south a wine-room, and in the east corner a wash-room; then a smoking-room, the cloak-room, and the reading-room. All are to be finely fitted up and gorgeously upholstered. The reading-room will be supplied with the daily newspapers and standard periodicals and magazines, both American and foreign. The particular style of furniture has not yet been agreed upon. The three principal apartments will have open fire-places. Workmen are still busily engaged in fitting the rooms for occupancy, and it is hoped that they can be done and the suite completely furnished by Nov. 1.
Columbia Theater Program (Feb 15, 1885) and 1890 Floor Plan
Chicago Tribune, March 31, 1900
The Columbia Theater was destroyed in half an hour yesterday afternoon by a fire starting at the roof. Within fifteen minutes after the flames burst out the roof the old building began to tumble in and in another fifteen minutes nothing of the six-story structure was standing except the walls. The swiftness of the fire’s work probably never was exceeded in a building constructed for permanent use and under the eye of the City Building Commissioner. Chief Swenie said the building had been regarded as a firetrap for a long time and his fear that when the theater should burn it would take the entire block with it. Therefore he considered the result fortunate.
When the roof fell it carried with it the gallery and balcony, and a collapse of the supports to the floors occupied by the Iroquois club followed. A mass of wreckage dropped into the foyer, box office, and tyhe stores on the ground floor. The total loss was estimated at $150,000. The Columbia Theater Amusement company, which owned the structure, made the announcement that it would rebuilt the theater at once.
Many Have Narrow Escapes.
The rapidity with which the fire spread occasioned narrow escapes from the comparatively deserted building. Chorus girls in costume fled into the alley and kitchen women in the Iroquois club, which occupied rooms in the building, were carried down the fire escapes. Club members in the billiard-room had time to get out by the front entrance and attendants placed the papers of the club in a safe. They were unable to save any of the paintings in the rooms. Business was suspended in the Marquette Building, at the rear of the burning theater, and the offices were in commotion.
Stories of Origin Conflict.
The theatrical people said the fire started in the kitchen or laundry of the Iroquois club. The club members said it started from crossed wires in the galleries of the theater. It began on the sixth floor or near the roof. A clerk of John C. McCord, agent for the building, had reached the fifth floor when it was discovered, and it was on the floor above him. The employes of the club found the fire from the kitchen.
The rapidity of the spread of the fire made the work of rescue an immediate sequence to discovery. The women in the club kitchen were in danger. Frances Miller fainted and was carried out by the assistant chef of the club. The others were taken down by the firemen who first reached the building. The records of the club were in the safe, and the condition of its contents was said to depend on whether it had been locked or not. The portraits of Jefferson and Jackson and the Western scenes of the Stobie collection owned by the club were lost. The Executive committee of the club had held its meeting to arrange for the monthly dinner. Its members were called together again at the Palmer House as soon as the destruction of the building was known and it was decided to give the dinner at the Palmer House on Tuesday evening.
Regarded as a Fire Trap.
The results of the fire if it had occurred during a performance were indicated, firemen say, by the difficulty of the few persons in the building to escape before it was completely burned.
“Thank God there was no matinee on,” said Mr. Davis. “I shudder to contemplate the consequences of such a case. I have feared such a catastrophe. The house had outlived its usefulness.”
Chief Swenie, as stated, said tat the building always had been considered a fire trap. and that it had been expected to take the entire block with it when it went down.
“Everything in it was dry and old,” said the Chief, last night. “Burning from the top, it naturally went more slowly than it would have if it had secured a start from the bottom. We expected a good deal hotter fire than we had. If there had been an audience in it people might have got out if they would have kept their heads. But people do, not keep their heads in such cases.”
Substantial, Safe, Says McAndrews.
James McAndrews, City Building Commissioner, declared last night that he regarded the Columbia, as a “good, substantial, and safe structure,” and that there would be no investigation of the fire.
The building was constructed according to the ordinance in force in 1881. The exits were always in the best condition. It was, of course, an old-fashioned structure, and that accounts for the rapidity of its destruction. Even the strongest buildings can go down in a few minutes, the two Coliseums have shown. One of my inspectors visits all the theaters with Marshal Horan once a month.
All the other theaters are in excellent condition.
Mr. Andrews declared he opposed kitchens near playhouses, and he understood the Columbia fire started in the club kitchen.
Chicago Tribune, March 31, 1900
FIRE SPECTATOR IS ARRESTED.
Frank M. Van Osdel, a son of John M. Van Osdel, the architect, thought he was entitled to a better view of the fire than Detective Custy of the Central Detail yesterday afternoon and struck Custy with a blow in the eye. The detective responded on Mr, Van Osdel’s eye and led him to the Central Station. Mr. Van Osdel subsequently was released on bail, but he will have to appear in the Harrison Street Police Court today to answer the charge of disorderly conduct. The detective was not in uniform.
The Inter Ocean, March 31, 1900
Although not so old as several of the play-houses of Chicago, the Columbia theater has some historic interest, and has been the scene of many notable engagements. It was originally known as Hagerty’s theater, and was constructed just after Haverly’s lease on the old Adelphi theater expired. J.H. Haverty was then an important factor in the amusement world.
In 1880 Mr. Haverty secured the financial co-operation of John B. Carson in the venture of building a new theater, and the site selected was on lots just west of of Dearborn on Monroe street. The design of the new theater was made and carried out on a somewhat elaborate plan for those days, and it is notable that the building was constructed and opened to the public within eighty-eight days after the ground was broken. James D. Carson has control of the building operations. The building itself retained largely the form it had up to yesterday, although the theater itself was afterward remodeled.
Haverly’s theater was opened on the evening of Sept. 11, 1881, when Stuart Robson and W. H. Crane played “Twelfth Night” there. Haverly continued as proprietor until June, 1883, when financial reverses ceased him to re-lease the property to Charles H. McConnell, who became proprietor at that time. Mr. McConnell’s pet projects were the art galleries which he added to the theater in 1884, and for a considerable time afternoon receptions and concerts were given semi-monthly, these being attended by the fashionable people of the city. Some rare paintings and works of sculpture were here exhibited.
On Feb. 2, 1885, a stock company was organized, and Mr. McConnell sold out a large interest in the theater, the Columbia Theater company being organized at that date with J. M. Hill as president and manager. J.S. McConnell treasurer, and C.H. McConnell secretary. The new Columbia had for its opening attraction Henry Irving and Ellen Terry, and to Miss Terry was given the honor of rechristening it. “The Columbia” proved a happy title and the theater was so known afterward.
Later the theater passed under the management of Will Morton, husband of Lily Post, the opera singer, and James Carson, son of the owner of the house, and in 1890, Will J. Davis and Al Hayman took charge and have been in control since. Mr. Davis was at the time manager of the Haymarket on the West Side, and Mr. Hayman was from San Francisco. The latter is now associated with Charles Frohman, in addition to being interested in Chicago theatricals.
Many players of note have appeared in the Columbia, and the Chicago engagements of Mr. Irving and Miss Terry were usually played there. Fanny Davenport’s productions of the Sardou plays were staged at the Columbia, and there Sarah Bernhardt and other famous foreign stars appeared. In fact, the large stage of the Columbia and its seating capacity, 2,000, made it desirable for heavy and spectacular productions, and since it has been under the management of Davis and Hayman its popularity has been largely along linesw of current operas, extravaganzas, and “reviews,” the New York Casino attractions being always presented at this theater.
The burning of the Columbia naturally resulted in a number of rumors last evening concerning the the bookings at that house for the remainder of the season, these principally including the return engagement of Henry Irving and Ellen Terry. “The Belle of New York,” “The Old Homestead,” and the new production, “Hearts Are Trumps,” which it had been intended to give it at the theater during the summer. One of these rumors concerned the Dearborn theater, but Manager Tillotson declared there would be no change in the stock-company policy of that house, as he is already contemplating Shakespearean revivals, and cannot give up his theater to general attractions.
Another rumor attached to the Studebaker, but there it was also emphatically asserted that the plans of the opera company would be carried out as announced. The Grand opera-house has important important attractions of its own. It is possible that some of ther Columbia attractions may be played at Powers’ theater, but such arrangement would involve some difficulty. It is also a possibility that the Irving engagement could be played at the Auditorium, and this suggestion was made last evening. Manager Davis, however, had up to a late hour made no definite arrangements about playing the Columbia bookings at other houses.
The Iroquois Club occupied the top four stories.
Robinson Fire Map