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Oriental Theater Chicago: Then and Now - Epictourist

Oriental Theater Chicago: Then and Now

There is no shortage of things to do in the Chicago area, but one venue that may have been overlooked by many must see lists is the Oriental Theater Chicago.


Theater History

The Oriental theater, also known as the Ford Center for the Performing Arts, is an iconic venue, built back in 1926. Part of the National Registry of Historic Places, the theater was built on the site of the old Iroquois Theatre, which back in 1903 caught fire and killed more than 600 people. The devastating fire destroyed every inch of the theater, so that the new Oriental Theater retained nothing. Despite being completely rebuild decades later, the front of the theater looks nearly identical to the former theater, giving it an even older more historic vibe from the street view.

In the heart of downtown Chicago’s booming theater district, the movie theater was popular for decades, until the 1960s. To survive the 70s the theater showed what were referred to as “exploitation films” because they tended to be low budget films meant to capture attention and draw in crowds. Often featuring sex, violence, drug use and other explicit content, these films helps the theater survive until 1981, when it finally shut down.

In 1998 the theater reopened. The success of the theater, marked by the award winning production, Wicked, which was the most popular theater production in Chicago history, revamped the once forgotten Oriental Theater. The Wicked performances were so successful they ran for 3.5 years when production was only expected to continue for a year and a half.

Once the Oriental Theater opened and gained popularity, other theaters in the area opened or reopened as well. The once abandoned theater then became part of a bustling theater scene, know and the Chicago Loop, with other venues including the Cadillac Palace Theatre, Bank of America Theatre, the Goodman Theatre, and the Chicago Theatre.


Now, tourists and locals visit the theater to see popular broadway musicals and productions, like Wicked, the Lion King, Jersey Boys, Les Miserables, Billy Elliot, The Addams Family and many more.

Fun Fact

The theater is technically a skyscraper, with 32 stories, which are now used as office space. There was a proposal to convert the offices into apartments, so Chicago locals may be able to move in above the historic theater in the future. Pretty cool!


The theater is located at 24 West Randolph Street, Chicago, Illinois, The Loop 60601



Categories: Chicago

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