Kingsbury Music Hall New Chicago Theatre (1875), Metropolitan (1878), Olympic Theatre (1879), Apollo Theater (1928-Rebuilt).
Life Span: 1873-1949
Location: 66-72 W. Randolph Street
Architect: Burling & Adler
The Land Owner, October, 1873
MUSIC HALL, CLARK STREET
In his sketching rambles about Chicago our artist, Mr. Wallis, has graced our title page this month, with an exquisite illustration of the Music Hall, recently thrown open in this city, the sketch being taken on the occasion of a late performance by Theodore Thomas’ Orchestra, with the audience seated and the fine auditorium illuminated.1
Our Great Public Halls.—The New Music Hall, Clark St., Erected by the Kingsbury Estate on the Site of the Old Museum.
This hall is an addition to our public places of amusement and gathering of which every citizen may well be proud. It was erected by the Kingsbury estate, and the hall itself occupies the site of the the old Museum theater, with its entrance, however, changed to Clark st., opposite the Sherman house. The dimensions of the hall are 80 by 100 feet, and it is 47 feet high, from the floor to the apex of the glass dome. The gallery floor is 14½ feet above the main floor at the lowest, and 20 feet high at the highest point. The size of the stage is 22 by 50 feet. The seating capacity is 1,600 numbered seats. The main entrance, from Clark street, is through a vestibule 17 feet wide. In addition to this there are two pairs of double doors opening to Couch place. The floor of the hall is elevated only six feet above the sidewalk on Clark street. The internal decoration of the hall is shown by our engraving. Its construction is as solid and secure as care and skill could make it. The walls are of unusual thickness. On the west side, where they adjoin those of the Ashland Block, instead of the ordinary party walls with joists built in on both sides, there are two independent walls whose combined thickness is nearly four feet. Wherever iron could be used for the construction of floor beams, it has been done. The walls are braced at the corners by eight diagonal iron girders, each 36 feet long. The hall is lighted at night by a system of reflectors in the ceiling and by brackets and chandeliers disposed around the room and under the gallery. To adapt the hall for use in the day time, a sky-light, twenty-two by forty feet, filled with stained glass, had been placed in the ceiling, and large windows have been placed in the wall facing. Couch place, thus making the hall almost as light as the street. The elegant frescoing was done by Messrs. Schubert & Koenig, and the stained glass windows were furnished by Geo. A. Misch & Bro., while the hall is thoroughly heated by steam, put in by the Crane Bros. Manufacturing Co.
This hall costs upwards of $80,000, independently of the entrance, and was constructed from the plans of Messrs. Burling & Adler, architects, who also constantly supervised the work. In its form and finish it compares favorably to Steinway Hall, in New York, and the Music Hall in Boston, and it seems to us, will satisfy the most exacting. For lectures, concerts, or public meetings of any sort, it is admirably adapted, and is destined to at once become a thoroughly popular and much frequented hall.
Chicago Tribune, August 17, 1875
NEW CHICAGO THEATER.
A new theatre, a new play, and a new company, form a combination strong enough, one would think, to draw even the lazy amusement-seekers of Chicago from their hiding places; but last night proved the contrary. All these attractions were offered in the New Chicago Theatre last night to not more than half an audience. Those who did go to see and hear the new things were not disappointed; and, when the combination of circumstances that kept so many away shall have passed, no doubt the theatre will be patronized as it deserves. So far as the hall and its surroundings are concerned, there is certainly little room for criticism. The old Kingsbury Music-Hall—which had descended in the course of fortune from the severely classical to the broadly burlesque—has been completely refitted, and is now a fir abode for “the domestic drama,” or “parlor comedy.” The appointments are excellent. Fresh paint in delicate tints, new carpets and upholstery, ample stage arrangements, mirrors, hangings, and gas-fittings, have worked a wonderful change. A description in detail is scarcely warranted or needed, both because it has once before been given in these columns, and because all play-goers have an opportunity every night of seeing it with their own eyes. It is sufficient ton say that the new theatre is worthy of large patronage, if it be considered merely a comfortable lounging-place.
Whether it shall have a higher character will depend, of course, upon the management. And in this direction, also, we have great expectations, Mr. Hall has an excellent reputation. He is said to be one who knows how to do a theatrical thing well. and is fond of doing so. He is supposed to be aq person of judicious taste, and he is known to be one of large experience. The public will look to him for sound plays, which shall be interesting as well as moral. Now the plaY of “Tom Penryn” is moral enough, but it is not interesting. Considered as a work of art, it is beneath criticism. It has no plot. The first act is palpably worked up from “David Copperfield,”—that inexhaustible nine for poor dramatists. Steerforth, Little Em’ly, Peggotty, Ham, and Mrs. Gummidge come forward again in the mimic world as natural as life. The strongest situation in the play, which occurs in the second act, is just as plainly taken from the “Cricket on the Hearth.” The scene is the famous one in which John Perrybingle is led to suspect Dot of infidelity, but finally rises up in grand fashion and declares “I’ll not believe it.” There would be no objection, of course, no taking material in this freehanded manner from Dickens, or from any other master of fiction, if it were skillfully used afterwards. The author of “Tom Penryn”—or perhaps, it may be the adapter—has not concealed this much. Though the whole atmosphere of the play is English, the scene is violently laid in America, and the time is fixed during our Civil War. Thus we have remarkable incongruities such as halls, ‘squires, and “Apple Tree Inn,” and a traditional English father flourishing as happily as can be in the heart of America. It may be in Nebraska or it may be in Maine, but somewhere in America we know the action must be; for the hero fights in the Union Army. One of the characters, Bob Prout, uses the provincial dialect which courtesy has associated with Lancashire on the American stage; yet the play-bill says, “Place and time, America in 1863,” The play is healthy enough. There is no seduction, no divorce, no “New Magdalen.” Tom Penryn wants to marry Jenny, the maid of the Apple-Tree Inn. He is young and rich, and dependent upon his testy old father. She is pretty and in comfortable circumstances, but socially no match for Tom. The testy old father is misled, and believes his son is engaged in a disreputable love affair with somebody unknown to him. The son is disinherited, joins the Union army, distinguishes himself, returns to his first love, receives his father’s blessing, and isn happy. There is an entire absence of motive for the action from beginning to end. The testy old father had no decent reason for disinheriting his son, and no decent reason for taking him back. The son has no excuse, unless it be supposed that he is totally deficient in common-sense, for deceiving his father. The play, as we have said, has absolutely no plot. It has some comic situations and an occasional touch of pathos which redeem it from utter badness; and this is as much as can honestly be said for it.
Mr. Chippendale as old Penryn, Mr. James as Tom Penryn, Mr. Coleman as John Doe Temple (asn eccentric old lawyer), Miss Ada Gilman as Kitty Prout, and Miss Helen Tracy as Jenny, were perhaps all that could be expected; at any rate, they filled the parts quite as well as the parts deserved to be filled.
New Chicago Theatre Programs
Left to Right: April 2, 1877, September 30, 1877, December 30, 1877.
Chicago Tribune, November 10, 1878
The New Chicago Theatre has been re-christened. Once more. Someone propounds the conundrum in a forgotten old play, “What’s in name?” but it has been given up long ago. Nobody ever thought of asking what there was., might be, or could be in many names, and now at this late day, Mr. William Emmett, of the Academy of Music, steps in and seeks to revive the question by plastering the words “Metropolitan Theatre” over that of “New Chicago.”
The fact that he has leased it and intends to run it as a variety show has already been announced. With Mr. Emmett’s plans and prospects we have nothing to do at present, but this fresh baptism calls up certain ghostly reminiscences about the locality, which furnaces occasion to note down some curious items that may be interesting to mold settlers.
This pretty little theatre has a history, and its many lessees have undergone strange vicissitudes. It has been called by many names, and none of them to have been permanently fortunate. If Mr. Emmett succeeds with it under the latest title, he should at once have that title patented and label the word “Metropolitan” over the door of every starving theatrical show in the country.
Perhaps it is not generally known that the auditorium of the New Chicago Theatre is located exactly where the old Wood’s Museum lecture-room was, the place of entrance being shifted from Randolph to Clark street.
It was first known to the public as a place of amusement under the name of Kingsbury Hall. As far back as 1862 ancient citizens now alive recall a triangular transparency over the door, telling the people that this was Ottignon’s Gymnasium. The Gymnasium had a brief and not very glorious career, and then the hall was rented for a time to wandering minstrel shows. (They were not called combinations in those days.) Sam Sharpley’s troupe occupied it for a while, and then Bryant, and others, and they all did a reasonably poor business. Then a panorama came along, and after that a lot of traveling lecturers and the like. By and by a Mr. Meilon hired the place and fitted up as a museum. He went to St. Louis and brought from that city a zooglidon. some stuffed skunks, parrots, live monkeys, and old fossils of various kinds. These be transported in three canal boats up the Illinois River to LaSalle, and thence by the canal to Chicago. This was the beginning of the Museum. Judge Henry Fuller, who is still alive, took a fancy to the fossils and brought up the concern, and ran the Museum for a time. Then Col. Wood came along and Fuller took him into partnership. Wood was a pupil of Barnum, and saw his advantage in combining the Museum with a moral theatrical show (where no improper persons were admitted). It was War time,—a time when it was simply necessary to open a door and hang up a sign that there was a show inside to insure an extensive patronage,—and the concern became at once a great success. The Colonel stuck his picture up on front of the building, and all the moral people of the town went to the “lecture-room” to see the “Ticket-of-Leave Man,” and to flirt with the girls in the upper floors on matinee days. About the time it was that Frank Aiken came to the surface and grew to be the darling actor of the town, adored by all the women for his fascinating locks and flashing black eyes. Wood gave up the theatre after he discovered that it required management, and Frank Aiken took it off his hands. With one bold stroke of the blacking-brush he rubbed out some $50,000 worth of advertising, and called it Aiken’s Museum. Pardonable vanity, peculiar to actors. He would have done the like had he bought out Hostetter’s Stomach Bitters, and with the same result. As Aiken’s Museum the place did not prove a success, and Frank eventually gave it up, and went to the Dearborn Theatre.
Randolph, between Dearborn and Clark Streets
The Museum was then closed for a brief period, when Henry Fuller—who yet retained some interest in the stuffed birds and fossils—again stepped in, and tried to run it, with John Blaisdell as manager. Passing over the history of Blaisdell’s celebrated overcoat and other curious reminiscences concerning that management, one recalls the story of Fuller and the man who was playing the trombone in the orchestra. The man was sitting with his instrument ready, waiting for his cue, when Fuller went up and nudged him. “See here,” said he, “I want all the hands in this house to earn their wages, What are you about with your horn?”
“This is a pizzicato movement,” said the horn-blower, “there is a five-bar rest here, you know.”
“D———n your pizzicato and your five bar rest,” responded the manager. “I hired you to blow that horn, and you can’t have any rests while I’m around.”
(A similar anecdote has been told about a Glasgow manager of old days, but this is a fact about Fuller. George Stevens was leader at the time, and he makes affidavit to the fact.)
Blaisdell fizzled. Then John Z. Little took hold of their place, and he fizzled. Then Wood came back again, and the great fire overtook him, and burned all his fossils, and grottos, and birds, and monkeys.
After the fire the place was re-established under the old name of Kingsbury Hall, and was let out for concerts and other entertainments. Lucca appeared there, and the Marionettes, and Prof. Pepper, etc., until Aug. 1874, when Pavne, Jones, and Fred Aimes started it as a variety show. It was now called the Kelly & Leon Minstrel Hall. Then the name was changed to “Grand Opera House,” under which title it managed to draw in four months, $17,000. Of this $11,000 went for improvements, and the remainder for personal expenses,—beer, etc.,—and in the beginning of 1875 Aimes sold out for $1,500 to notes from Jones. Jones fizzled and disappeared, leaving salaries unpaid, and many confiding friends to morn his loss.
After this E. M. Kayne and Hall, the minstrel men, ran the place for a month, and they, too, fizzled.
McVicker then came in and took the lease, for what purpose no fellow could find out, unless it was to get ahead of Charlie Gardiner, who had been looking for it. McVicker put Tom Hall in it with a comedy company, and called it “The New Chicago.” After thirteen weeks of bad business Hall went to the wall.
Hooley now took it into his head to have a chance at it, and rented it from McVicker. The name was once more changed to “Hooley’s New Chicago.” This venture also proved unsuccessful, owing to circumstances over which nobody appeared to have any control. Hooley “tore his beard and foaming fled the fight.”
Then Jack Haverly took it, and called it “Haverly’s New Chicago.” He ran Pat Rooney and a variety company for a little while, and after the little while he was fain to give it up. He tried several times since with indifferent success. Cazeneuve, the Georgia Minstrels, and other shows rented it from time to time,and Haverly came back to it. No success.
Next after Haverly came John Hamlin, who managed to pay his rent, and no more. He ran in the West Side Folly people, and the concern fell to pieces in his hands.
Undaunted by these successive failures, long John Allen and the blonde Frank Clynes took the thing in hand, and succeeded in filling the house one week. Unfortunately, they were not able to pay salaries after a time, and so they fizzled.
Now enter Wurster, who rented the place to run German theatricals on Sunday nights. He labeled it “Wurster’s New Chicago,” and succeeded measurably until he attempted to give week-day performances. Then he, too, fizzled.
Mr. Emmett now steps in with a new signboard, and Heaven only knows what effect that is going to have upon the varying fortunes of the unhappy house. Every one, so far, has left it a loser, except Wood, but it may be that the name will work wonders. “Metropolitan” is a good, sounding name. Simon McCarthy went around the country with that name,and ruled several theatrical enterprises,—at Indianapolis, at Louisville, and elsewhere,—but Emmett is a daring fellow, and he is bent on getting the best of John Hamlin. So, even if he loses, he will be content.
Chicago Tribune August 30, 1879
The rechristened Olympic Theatre on Clark street, near Randolph, under the management of Mitchell & Sprague, will open with a performance in which will appear Cool Burgess, Miss Louise Montague, Harry Bennett, Manchester and Jennings, Miss Jennie Engle, the Larue Family, Prof. A. W. Sawyer, Mr. Harry Saxton, the cornet soloist, and the Zanfretta troupe. The exterior and interior of the theatre has undergone thorough renovation, and according to the management, the new enterprise will be conducted with a view to secure the best quality of entertainment, and with a view to the comfort of his patrons.
Olympic Theatre Programs
Left to Right: September 28, 1879, April 8, 1880, September 3, 1881.
Chicago Tribune, May 3, 1885
Kohl & Middleton’s Dime Museums—The features exhibited at the West-Side Museum last week will be transferred to the South-Side, owing to the closing of the first-mentioned place in order to to turn it into a summer pavilion. Capt. Townsend and the Ideal combination will be seen at the South-Side house.
New Dime Museum, Randolph street—Among the new curiosities advertised is the wonderful camel child, the turtle boy, the moss-haired woman from Constantinople, the Mexican wild boy, and other new features. On the stage, Williams’ All-Star specialty company.
Olympic Theatre, from the Rand McNally & Co.’s Bird’s-Eye Views and Guide to Chicago, 1893.
Olympic Theatre and Schiller Building
Chicago Tribune, May 3, 1896
Olympic to Be Rebuilt.
Eleven years ago today Kohl & Middleton opened the Olympic Theater with George Castle as manager, and tonight after eleven years’ uninterrupted success the house will be closed. Tomorrow the contractors start to tear down the front building, and in three months from now a grand twelve-story building will replace it, leading to what will be almost a new theater. It goes without saying that the house will be jammed today. Tomorrow the new continuous show opens at the Chicago Opera-House.
Excerpted from Chicago Tribune, September 1, 1896
The other theaters were in statu quo last night with the the exception of the Olympic, which was reopened after having been rebuilt. An audience of enormous proportions crowded through the doors into the handsome and commodious interior and gave loud and frequent evidence of its approval and enjoyment. The new theater, for such it really is, yields to none in beauty, and is now certainly the most gorgeous and elegant building devoted to vaudeville in this country, with the exception of Hammerstein’s Olympia and Koster & Bial’s in New York. With no exceptions it far surpasses any other theater where performances are given at 10, 20, and 30 cents.
The entrance from Clark street is through a hallway sixty-five feet long by fifteen feet wide. The walls of this hall are made of marble and the ceiling is of mirrors with mosaic framework. The floor is of mosaics. As one enters one sees at once that the auditorium has been enlarged. It now seats 813 persons, which is 150 more than the old house, and the capacity of the balcony and gallery has been increased in about the same proportion. On either side of the proscenium are now seven private boxes. The aisles are wide and roomy. The seats of oak, upholstered with brown morocco leather, are large and soft. The floors are covered with corrugated rubber carpets. The large windows in the rear of the theater are of stained glass.
As for the decorations, the ground color os a brilliant light green, set off by the slate color of the ceiling. The prevailing decorative feature is a renaissance design composed of a pair of dolphins resting on a shell the whole, strange way, giving the effect of a harp. The cove under the balcony and gallery has a conventionalized musical ornament centering in dolphins lined in light blue with shades of pale yellow.
The front of the balcony has a has a concession of mermaids floating on imaginary waves. The large panels over the boxes are ornamented with figures of dancing girls of heroine size. The boxes are of light open work of iron in blue and gold. But the most striking feature of the decoration is the design about the large oval mirrors just outside the boxes. They are life-size figures of Comedy and Tragedy, backed by Venetian scroll work in a filigree of gold.
In this palace of variety there was offered last night an excellent entertainment, of which the most notable features were Ezra Kendall, Dixon, Bowers and Dixon, Lillie Laurel and Mays and Hunter.
Randolph Street looking west from Dearborn. The Garrick Theatre, formerly the Schiller,and the Ashland Block with the Olympic Theatre (arrow), can be seen in this circa 1910 photograph.
Chicago Tribune, March 8, 1913
Olympic Returns to Vaudeville.
Announcement is made by Lyman B. Glover, general manager of the Kohl-Castle theaters in Chicago, that following the brief run of “Hindle Wakes” the Olympic theater will revert to its original policy of a popular price vaudeville house at prices ranging from 10 to 30 cents.
Dramatic houses have multiplied to such an extent in the loop district that it has become impossible to maintain an average of bookings that appeal to playgoers, whereas the tendency toward popular prices and vaudeville is pronounced.
The Olympic was the first important vaudeville theater in Chicago. The late Charles E. Kohl and his partner, George Castle, observed in advance of any other western managers the public liking for smart variety and set about supplying the demand. Taking over the old Olympic, then practically a second story theater, very plain in all its appointments, they flung out the “continuous” banner with 10-20-30 as their battle cry, and in a short time the new entertainment caught the popular fancy. Indeed, this was the beginning of a consistently successful career, which continued until after the Majestic was built, and the “Big O.,” as the house was called by its friends, was transformed into a dramatic house with Klaw & Erlanger associated with the Kohl-Castle people.
Announcement is made that the inaugural of this new policy will occur on or about March 23.
Chicago Tribune, June 14, 1925
Leasing of the Olympic theater, Clark and Randolph streets, by the Schuberts was announced yesterday. The new lessees plan to remodel the theater and reopen in September with Willie Howard in “Sky-High,” a musical play now at the New York Winter garden.
The Schuberts now operate outright six theaters and have a partnership in a seventh. Beside the Olympic, they operate the Garrick, the Apollo, the the Princess, the Great Northern, and the La Salle; and they have a partnership with A. H. Woods in the Adelphi.
The Olympic has survived several several radical changes in policy within the last twenty years. It has been a stronghold of the ten-twenty-thirty variety show, a Chicago home for George M. Cohan’s plays, and recently has been a Columbia burlesque house.
LEFT: 1922 Olympic Theatre Program
RIGHT: Chicago Tribune, December 30, 1927
Announcement and review of the first talking picture shown at the new Balaban & Katz’s Apollo Theater on August 22, 1934.
Chicago Tribune, May 11, 1949
The historic Apollo theater in the Ashland block, Randolph and Clark sts., closed its doors last night to make way for razing of the building. A bus station will be erected on the site. Most of the building’s other tenants already have moved.
Four successive buildings have occupied the site since it first was used for theatrical purposes 93 years ago, in 1856. The original theater, known as Kingsbury hall, was in the rear of a combination natural history and freak museum. Some of the dozen or more names used for theaters on the site were Olympic, New Chicago, Music hall, Arlington hall, and Grand Opera house.
Many prominent personalities appeared in the Apollo and its predecessors. The last stagae performance was in February, 1934.
Robinson Fire Map
1 Theodore Thomas (October 11, 1835 – January 4, 1905), was the founder of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.