Academy of Music, Bijou Academy Theater (~1930)
Life Span: 1872-1878, 1878-1880, 1880-1932
Location: Halsted Street near Madison Street
Architect: Col. S.V. Shipman, Oscar Cobb (1878)
Academy of Music
Chicago Tribune, December 24, 1871
The New Academy of Music.
They are having a bitter fight with time and the elements innthe construction of the Academy of Music on Halsted street, near Madison, but in spite of the few remaining days, and the intensely cold and stormy weather with which they have to contend, the plucky, enterprising proprietor is certain to come off victorious, and to fulfill his promise of opening on the 8th of January. Great strides will be made during the ensuing fourteen working days, with the regiment of workmen who are engaged upon the building, and, when the finishing touches shall have been put on, the public will be introduced to a theater of which Chicago would have been proud before the fire. It is Mr. Gardiner’s desire to conduct the Academy of Music on the “star” plan, and the amusement patrons of Chicago may congratulate themselves on the prospect of of once more enjoying entertainment by the world’s greatest artists, both dramatical and musical.
Chicago Evening Mail, January 6, 1872
During the week succeeding the great fire, scarcely any one thought of amusements except to deem them sacrilegious and out of place in the face of so much distress and suffering. Our great temples of art and music were in ruins and their devotees scattered and penniless.
Very soon, however, the gloom and darkness which seemed to cloud the public mind begun to be dispelled and the light of happiness to break through and take its accustomed place.
It was known in a few days that Col. Wood had taken the “Globe,” the only regular theatre left, and when the other knights of the buskin were to go, if theu all went at all, was a question all unsolved. That there was a demand for more commodious Temple of Thespis in some central place in the West Division was a fact patent to all. But who should be the one to strike out and risk his money on such an enterprise.
C.R. Gardinerand his associates revolving these things in their mind, determined to build a “Academy of Music” something after the style of Hooley’s Opera House, on Halsted street near Madison. No sooner had the determination been made than a prominent architect was constituted and employed, the ground purchased and the foundations for the superstructure laid.
Col. S.V. Shipman>was the architect employed. He is no school boy at the business, having designed and superintended the erection of the State Capital at Madison, Wisconsin, the Iowa Insane Asylum, the Elgin Insane Asylum and many other extensive buildings in different parts of the country, In
Thirty-five days from the time when the new academy of music was commenced—or on next Monday—it will be finished and ready for the public. Such energy and push in the erection of so large a building in so short a time, and that in midwinter, has seldom been equaled.
It speaks well for the gentlemen who had the different contracts in charge. Messrs. Bushnell & Co. of Elgin, have done the work and Mr. Wallace Hume has been the gead carpenter. A beehive was never busier than was the whole building yesterday, carpenters, painters, upholsterers, gas fitters, masons and roofers, to the number of 150 were all hammering and working away with all their might, besides the this number that have been working for several days, there are ninety men that have worked for several nights.
The building is 52 feet wide by 120 feet long, the walls being 60 feet high and constructed of brick. The architect realizing the danger of building such a structure in mid-winter, had ten by twelve timbers built into and anchored to the walls at intervals of twelve feet, and running to the top, upon which he has rested the roof, so that the only pressure the wall will have to stand is that of their own weight, assisted by these massive timbers.
Passing through the front door into the spacious vestibule the box office and business room are found on the left and the refreshment room on the right of the main entrance. Going forward the auditorium is reached, with its lofty arched ceiling and commodious seating capacity, it will have a parquette, dress-circle, balcony circle and gallery, in all accommodating 1200 persons, and each one in full view of the stage. It will be lighted by reflectors in the ceiling, and heated by furnaces in the basement. The seats will all be upholstered with curled hair, and will be very easy.
The stage is 25×35 feet, and will be supported with a large amount of beautiful new scenery painted expressly for use here by Mr. Howard Rogers.
The Academy of Music, when complete, will cost its owners the snug little suk of $35,000; it will be a gem in the way of a public resort, by far the most commodious and tasty in the city.
The Wyndham Company will do the honor of inaugurating this new theatre with “Ours” on Monday evening next. Mr. Gardiner confidently thinks he will have everything in readiness. The popularity of the Wyndhams, and the incentive of a brand new house, perfect in all its appointments, should gather in an overflowing house. Beadel’s orchestra of eleven pieces, formerly of McVicker’s, will furnish the music.
Mr. Robinson, formerly of Crosby’s Opera House, will be usher, and Mr. Padget, late of Wood’s company, stage manager.
All the inside work will be of the latest style and most approved pattern. Proper attention has been paid to acoustic effect, and a whisper will be heard in any part of the house.
No more need be said to convey an idea of the attractions here displayed. To the proprietors of this superb edifice, Mr. C. R. Gardner and his associates, who have “this stately pleasure house ordained,” the thanks of the public are due.
Mr. Gardiner, however, is the master spirit of the enterprise, and as manager of the house will reap his reward during the season.
Chicago Evening Mail, January 10, 1872
THE ACADEMY OF MUSIC.
This new temple of amusement, a description we have before given, will be opened this evening. Thirty-seven days from the time the ground was first cleared, this wonderful structure has been raised. It is a handsome theatre, and will accommodate about 1,200 persons. The auditorium presents a bright and cheerful appearance, the decorations are not equal to Crosby’s Opera House, before the fire, yet they are tasteful and well selected.
Academy of Music
Chicago Tribune, February 5, 1878
The box at the corner of Madison and Halsted streets—now No. 333—has long enjoyed the distinction of being turned in oftener than any other in the city. But in spite of this frequency, and the dangerous neighborhood, there never was serious alarm until last night. At twenty minutes after 12 o’clock 333 was struck from the fire-bells, and a bright light in the sky indicated that the box had not been turned in this time for nothing. The reflection increased momentarily, and five minutes later the 2-11 gave notice that the fire was one of more than ordinary magnitude. It proved to be the Academy of Music, and the flames ran over it so fast that nearly the whole theatre was a mass of flames before a steamer got to work. The forks of flame shot high into the air, illuminating the whole neighborhood, and thousands were attracted to the spot, filling up Halsted street until the police drove them back to Madison and Monroes streets, where they remained until the building was destroyed.
The building was a total wreck inside. The whole roof is gone, and only a small section of the front, immediately back of the walls, is standing. It cost when built about $50,000, and was remodeled and a story added in 1874 at a cost of $15,000. Owing to the depreciation of property, it was not worth at 8 o’clock last night over $25,000 or $30,000. There is some insurance, but how much it is impossible to learn, since Mr. Clapp is in Europe, and his partner, Mr. Young, did not make his appearance on the ground.
The origin of the fire is a mystery. There were live coals in the heaters, to be sure, but the space all around them was cemented, and even should one have fallen over, the burning coals could not have reached the woodwork. The only light in the structure, so far as could be ascertained, was from a jet on the stage, and it stood in the centre, and the flame was fully feet from the floor. A score of people who were in the vicinity at the time heard a noise as if an explosion had taken place, but what exploded is a question no one could answer. The gas-meter was suggested, but one could not have made a sound strong enough to be heard a block off. There were no oils in the building, nothing that could explode. Officer Topping, of the American District Telegraph, seems to have been the first one who saw the flames. He was passing the alley running past the rear of Cobb’s blocks, and noticed through the windows, the reflection being quite bright. He ran at once to the box on the corner of Madison and Halsted streets and turned in an alarm. Just at that moment he heard an explosion. So, from his statement, the fire must have started previously. The flames, after the explosion, spread rapidly, and made their appearance almost immediately on the roof, and in every part of the structure. By the time the Fire Department arrived it was completely enveloped, and pouring water into it was of service only as a protection to adjacent property. This consisted mainly of frame shanties, Nos. 77 and 79 on the north and Nos. 85 and 87 on the south being wooden, while in the rear were two frame stables and a carpenter-shop or two. The Fire Marshall stationed his men all around the theatre, after a second alarm brought more assistance, and the fire did not go beyond its walls.
Chicago Tribune, May 5, 1878
ACADEMY OF MUSIC.
Plans For Its Rebuilding.
The Academy of Music, on Halsted street, which has come through the various vicissitude, incident to theatrical existence, is to be rebuilt, and on the 1st of September will begin a new career. Mr. W. B. Clapp, who owns the property, has concluded to expend some $50,000 in this way to oblige the residents of the West Side, and keep alive his reputation as an enterprising man. Work will be commenced on the new structure early this week, and it is expected that by the 1st of August the building will be completed. Yesterday the architect, Mr. Oscar Cobb, submitted his plans to Mr. Clapp and to Mr. Emmett, the lessee, and the lessee and the architect and the proprietor submitted them to the press for Sunday reading, The press herewith submits them in paragraphic form to the public. The Academy is to have a wider and higher frontage than in the old days. Mr. Clapp having purchased an adjoining lot for that purpose. It will present a more imposing appearance than the modest brick structure which was recently consumed. The building is to be of Cleveland stone, three stories high, with ornamental work, such as griffins and goddesses and Phoenixes, to make it attractive to the naked eye. The main entrance will be twenty-five feet wide and sixteen feet high, and ample provision has been made in regard to the means of exit from every part of the house. Fire-Marshall Beaner, who saw the plans last evening, said that, in case of a panic, there would be better means of escape than in any theatre in the city. Six additional outlets are to be made to intercept the fire-fiend, in case of emergency, from going from the stage to the audience. Two grand stairways will reach the circles from the private boxes. The stage is to be thirty-one and a half feet in width and thirty-eight feet deep. The construction of the auditorium is, with some improvements, after the style of the old one, which was admitted to be one of the prettiest interiors, both in respect of comfort and show, in Chicago. It will be considerably enlarged, the seating capacity of the entire house being 1,500. The aisles are to be wider than those in the other theaters, and generally speaking there is a determination on the part of Mr. Clapp and the architect to spare no expense in getting up a first-class theatre for the West Side. The lessee, Mr. Emmett, states that he will produce choice variety entertainment of a kind that can be enjoyed by all respectable people. He has made the place profitable as well as popular during his management, and he has every confidence in making it so in the future.
Chicago Tribune, September 17, 1878
THE ACADEMY OF MUSIC.
It is not often that the opening of a place of amusement attracts such throngs as did that of the Academy of Music last evening. For nearly the extent of half a block the street in front of the handsome new edifice was literally blockaded, so that street-cars and wagons could with difficulty drive through the crowd. The sidewalks became impassable, and to the passengers on the Madison street-cars the scene presented was such as may only be seen when some extraordinary conflagration is raging. This certainly indicated an unusual degree of public interest in an event which proved to be in many respects a very pleasant one. The reopening of the reconstructed theatre was attended with everything that is supposed to indicate a career of prosperity. It is no figure of speech in this instance to say the crowds of men and women found it impossible to obtain admission. By the time the curtain rose the house was packed from the orchestra to the remotest corner of the upper galleries, and the liberal spaces back of the scats were crowded. The audience which occupied the parquette and circle on the lower floor was a highly respectable one, and had a sound and solid “family” appearance. The galleries contained a most enthusiastic, yet well-behaved, army of men and boys, whose irresponsible demonstrations formed an amusing feature of the celebration.
All this enthusiasm was fully justified by the liberality shown by the proprietor and manager of the new Academy in providing for the comfort and pleasure of their visitors. It is to-day the prettiest auditorium in the city. The seats are wider and more comfortable than those of any other, and there is ampler space in the aisles. The fresco work, and the decorations generally are in admirable taste and singularly harmonious in color. On the space between the proscenium and the circle are two fine medallions drawn by Matt Morgan, representing Aurora. The drop-curtain, when unrolled, was the subject of a spontaneous burst of admiration. We have already given some account of this picture, and need not to refer it at this time only to repeat that it is a masterpiece of its kind. The figures are well drawn, and the details, especially in the satin drapery surrounding the oval, are simply perfect. In the course of the performance a series of pictures were unrolled successfully, and witnessed with gratifying enthusiasm by the spectators. Without attempting to make an inventory of the many conspicuous beauties of the new theatre, we may say in a word that the managers have more than redeemed the promise held out to their patrons, and built up a beautiful place of amusement which is a credit to the city.
Chicago Tribune, October 13, 1880
At about 9:20 yesterday morning, while several of the employés of the Academy of Music were in the lower rooms of the building, they heard a crackling noise overhead, which they at first thought was water escaping. On rushing up stairs to the dome in the centre of the roof, they found that the whole place was in flames. They attempted to use the buckets and extinguishers placed there, but the smoke was so heavy they were compelled to run down stairs to avoid suffocation. An alarm was turned in from Box 333, at the corner of Madison and Halsted streets, at 9:41, which brought to the scene Engines No. 1, 5, 7, 12, and 17, and Hook and Ladder Companies 2,3, and 6. When the engines reached the scene the fire had gained great headway, and the whole roof seemed to be ablaze. From previous experience on the same site it was known that the blaze would be a serious one, and the 2-11 alarm was turned in five minutes later, bringing six new engines, a hook-and-latter company, and a chemical engine. Dense smoke was pouring out of the building, and the most urgent efforts of the firemen were necessary to obtain any control of the fire. The roof is what is known as a “truss roof,” supported on transverse and oblique girders. Between the roof and the ceiling of the theatre the fire was burning furiously, and the only access for water was from the roof itself. Thither Assistant-Marshal Petrie of the Second Battalion was sent with men from Hook-and-Latter Companies 1, 2, 3, and 5 and Engine Companies 7, 14, 3, and 12. Three streams were directed into the burning building through the scuttle-hole and skylight. The hook-and-ladder men were tearing up the tin roof preparatory to cutting more holes for the admission of water. The streams below were directed upward from the lobby, and through the front windows.
Suddenly the men on the roof heard a crash inside, and the roof itself began to buckle. The firemen below heard the same terrible noise. Shrieks were uttered on the street below, and a few men were observed clinging to the wall, which still stood firm. Then it was known on the street that some awful calamity had happened, and it it was not until shouts from the interior of the building were heard that the firemen working in the front of the building knew the extent and character of the disaster. The roof had fallen in, carrying with it many of the firemen who were at work upon it.
These men, twenty-four in number, were grouped near the north wall of the building, standing on the roof, and engaged in cutting holes in order to get streams upon the fire.
This is the second time the Academy has been destroyed by fire. The theatre, which was built in thirty days, was opened on Jan. 10, 1872, by the Wyndham Comedy Company in Robertson’s comedy of “Ours.” Its success was immediate, and people from all sections of the city visited the handsome little theatre to witness stars of all degrees of magnitude. The owner of the building was then, as now, William B. Clapp, and the lessee at the time of its dedication, and for some years afterward, Charles R. Gardiner. In the summer of 1874, it was practically rebuilt and greatly enlarged. It finally lost caste, and proved to be a dead weight upon its owner. In 1876 it was leased to McCoy & Emmett, who started a variety entertainment at a low price of admission. The lessees were making money, the house being crowded nightly, until Monday evening, Feb. 4, 1878, when the building was completely destroyed, only a part of the front walls being left standing. The loss was said to be about $30,000, which was only partially covered by insurance.
The present building was erected by W. B. Clapp in the summer of 1878, and was opened for business Sept. 16, 1878. It cost $50,000, and subsequent alterations ran up the cost of the building alone to at least $80,000, in addition to the amounts laid out on the decorations of the interior. The building was 75×120 feet in dimensions, in addition to a separate building built in the rear of the north side, which was not touched. Every facility was furnished in the building for putting out fires, there being four stand pipes, and an abundance of buckets and extinguishers. It had the reputation of being the best protected theatre in the city. During the present year Marshal Swenie visited the place and suggested a number of additional precautions, which were immediately secured. The building was protected on all sides by heavy iron shutters. The front was cut of stone, presenting three stories of imposing appearance. The side and rear walls were of brick. Mr. Clapp yesterday announced that the building would be rebuilt immediately on a permanent basis.
Chicago Tribune, December 5, 1880
THE NEW ACADEMY OF MUSIC.
The West Side Academy of Music will be reopened on the 20th of December. About two months will then have elapsed since the destruction of the old building by fire. W.B. Clapp when he started upon the work of reconstruction hinted that he proposed making his house “the handsomest in the city,” and that he would provide for the West Siders a theatre the like of which, for comfort and gorgeousness, they had never dreamt of. The old Academy of Music was looked upon as the finest building of its kind in the country; the new one is far enough advanced to warrant us in saying that for rich, gorgeous, and glittering decoration, and for completeness in every department, the house will, as far as we know, have no equal anywhere. The shape of the auditorium is substantially the same as formerly, with the exception of the proscenium, which has been entirely remodeled. In place of four boxes there are now eight, built upon a plan resembling that adopted by the Grand Opera-House architect. The stage has been brought forward some eighteen inches, and made a little higher. The seating capacity has been increased to 1,900,—formerly it was 1,780,—and yet by the reconstruction of the proscenium and the style of decoration, the house has really a smaller appearance than it had. New features have been added in the shape of finely furnished retiring-rooms. Every inch of carpet will be new, and every chair—twenty-two inches wide—has been built upon a new model designed by Mr. Emmett. No excuse is spared in the decoration of the house. The design is sort of a Arabic and Moorish mixture, rich, soft, warm in its character. One of the original features of the new building will be the composition of the balcony-fronts. They are laid out in panels, being a composition of silver rods, crimson and blue plush, gold, and the whole is surrounded with a solid silver rail. Matt Morgan is painting a new drop-curtain representing Shakespeare reading before Queen Elizabeth. Many improvements have been made in the stage. A three-story building to the left of the theatre has been added, which will be used chiefly for dressing and green rooms. All the scenery will be new. The old company will reappear, and the former policy of the house will be adhered to.
For the generosity Mr. Clapp has shown in doing his best to contribute to the comfort of Manager Emmett’s patrons he deserves thanks of the entire West Side.
Inter Ocean, August 30, 1882
The Academy is now supplied with a cooling apparatus that makes the auditorium very comfortable and keeps the atmosphere purified throughout the house. Mr. Shelby intends to maintain the theater on a first-class scale.
Academy of Music
February 20, 1883 Programme
Authorized Performance of Iolanthe
Chicago Tribune, July 25, 1909
The old Academy of Music on Halsted street, one of Chicago’s historic playhouses, will abandon its former policy of popular priced melodrama and become a stock company theater with this afternoon’s performances. Kilmt and Gazzolo will control the fortunes of the renovated Academy and the company engaged to appear under their management will include many of the players seen at the Bijou last season. Annie Bronaugh will be the leading woman of the organization and John Lane Connor will enact the important major roles. “Lena Rivers,” a domestic drama fashioned from Mary Jane Holmes novel of the same name, by Beulah Poynter, will be the inaugural bill of the season.
Academy of Music
Chicago Tribune, September 8, 1923
In the Wake of the News
The Academy of Music on Halsted near Madison was the first theater built after the fire. It was run up in about 60 days and opened early in 1872 with a lurid drama called “The Great Chicago Fire.”
During 1872 many stars appeared at the Academy, including Mrs. D. P. Bowers, Matilda Heron, George L. Fox, Oliver Doud Byron, Fanny Louise Buckingham, Robert McWade, John E. Owens and the elder Sothern.
There were no theaters on the south side. Nixon’s Amphitheater, created for a circus, began business as a regular the same year. It was on Clinton near Randolph. Tony Pastor, with Harrigan and Hart, Gus Williams, Kitty O’Neil, and Jennie Engels appeared there. Also Manning’s minstrels, Orrin Bros. circus.
The Globe theater on Desplaines, near Washington, gave variety and also melodrama. Emily and Betty Rigi, noted ballet dancers, appeared at the Globe. Emily afterward became a successful legitimate actress. John, Jack, and Annie Firmn first produced the “New Magdalen” there.
The Academy later had a stock company, of which J. W. Blaisdell was the head and J. C. Padgett played the “heavies.” He was frequently bombarded from the gallery with his realistic villains.
Chicago Tribune, September 25, 1929
Bomb Routs Employes of Burlesque Theater.
A black powder bomb exploded in the rear entrance of the Academy theater, a burlesque house at 16 South Halsted street, shortly before midnight last night sent several actors and employes scurrying to the street. The last performance had closed half an hour before and no patrons were in the theater. Police believe rivalry among theaters in the district was the cause. The damage was negligible.1
Academy of Music, around 1930
Academy of Music
Robinson Map 1886
Volume 4, Plate 5
1 This was one of almost 100 bombings that took place at small businesses between December 12, 1928 and October 4, 1929. The Academy Theater’s last advertisement appeared on June 5, 1932.