Dramatic Architecture of Chicago Theaters

Of course when people plan a trip to Chicago, many think of a theater experience. From the Goodman Theater to Broadway shows, we have some great theater options. A special bonus of going to downtown theater performances is the opulent architecture you will experience. The drama of theaters isn’t reserved solely to the performance however; it’s evident in their architectural design as well. Here are some of our downtown favorites.

“oriental theater” architecture sign lights skyscraper

Both the Oriental Theater and the Chicago Theater were originally designed in the 1920s as cinema houses and are used for theatrical and musical performances today. Films were an easy ticket to a fantasy world, far away from everyday cares, and the architecture of the buildings display exotic opulence to assist with that journey. The regal rococo of Versailles inspired the interior spaces of the Chicago Theater, with over-the-top plaster ornamentation.

The Oriental Theater, today also called the Ford Center for the Performing Arts, of course took a more eastern inspiration. We discuss the liberal aspects of the term “eastern” on our Good Times Historic Bar Tour. While the ornamentation is still very European-styled with gold plaster cherubs, faces, and garlands, the use of red, gold and black lends to its moniker. We also see on the sign itself that onion shape which recalls other eastern inspired architecture around town.

Auditorium Theater Louis Sullivan Dankmar Adler arch design vent
Sullivan’s incredible ornamental details. Photo by Alex Bean.

The mother of them all, the Auditorium Building, has no comparison. It’s hard to believe that demolishing of this Louis Sullivan-designed treasure has been discussed several times over its history. Built in the late 1800s, this giant, blocky granite building was an engineering feat for its day, with hotel, offices, and the 4,300-seat theater. Inside, a multitude of ornate arches ring the theater, with ornamentation characteristic of Sullivan’s love for organic inspiration. When you go here for a performance today, or for a tour of the building, the beauty of the space really transports you to another place.

– Chicago Detours Staff


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Private Tour Coordinator and Tour Guide

There is no shortage of things to discover in Chicago—I love being an urban explorer and uncovering its hidden places. I have an MA in Public History from Loyola University Chicago, and I have worked as a museum educator and kindergarten teacher. My desire to learn new things fuels my passion for educating others, which I get to experience every day as a Chicago tour guide. I live in the northern neighborhood of Rogers Park.

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With our Chicago neighborhoods, vibrant cultural institutions and nearly two centuries of larger-than-life stories, there’s never a dull moment here! I’m a fifth generation Chicagoan and a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis. In addition to guiding tours, I’m a creative writer and amateur genealogist. I also enjoy the city’s dynamic theater scene. You can also read overlooked stories from 19th-century newspapers on my “Second Glance History” blog. I live in River North.


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Chicago is unique as it always evolves into the future while holding on to the past. I’m fascinated by how people latch on to old architecture but happily pave over others. My background is in theater and performance and I’ve been a tour guide here for more than 10 years. Currently I’m finishing my Master’s in Public History at Loyola University because I love to teach the history of this scrappy city. I’m in the Edgewater neighborhood.


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Chicago’s history is so fascinating, you could spend a lifetime uncovering its secrets…I’m willing to give it a try! I have an M.A. in US History from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and then pursued doctoral studies in Urban History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I love to learn new aspects of Chicago’s rich history and then share my knowledge as a tour guide with Chicago Detours. I live in Ravenswood.

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As a fourth generation Chicagoan, I have been living and loving Chicago by bike, on foot, public transit or automobile. I am a graduate of UIC where through the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, began my eagerness to understand the nature, history and impacts of urban planning and development. It is incredibly rewarding to give back to this wonderful city by helping out in the office of Chicago Detours. I live in the incredibly diverse neighborhood of Albany Park.
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Chicago has so many neighborhoods, buildings, and by-ways that it’s hard to go long without seeing something new, or something familiar from a new angle. I studied Cinema History for my M.A. from the University of Chicago. I’ve worked as a culture writer for various publications and as an educator of the humanities at the City Colleges of Chicago. I’m thrilled to share my love of this city’s busy past and unique architectural spaces with Chicago Detours. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of Lincoln Park.

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I’m an interpreter of personal stories from the past and the city’s landscape. I love to imagine what originally happened inside old unmarked buildings, and what forces have shaped their design. I studied Chicago history, architectural history, and anything Chicago-related through my M.A. in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. My love for stories was enriched by my B.A. in Literature from the University of Michigan. I’ve written travel articles for publications like Rick Steves’ Italy best-selling travel guides, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and The Chicago Food Encyclopedia. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of West Avondale.
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