August 27, 2010

Balaban and Katz Uptown Theatre Featured in 1926 Article

Editor's Note: We were quite excited to win at auction a 1926 Chicago Engineering Works Review issue featuring the Uptown Theatre! The article focuses on the stage switchboard. Complete text from the article below. The Chicago Engineering Works school was located at 2150 Lawrence.

The orchestra leader swings his baton and the musicians glide into the opening strains of "Moonlight Sonata."

Far ahead a battery of flood lights is pouring down clear golden light upon them, but gradually the gold changes to soft blue and then to purple. Over the arched walls and domed ceiling a rosy glow begins to creep, brightening and darkening with the cadences and moods of the symphony. The perfect harmony of the music and the lighting holds the huge audiences spellbound.

"Aren't the lighting effects at the Uptown Theater marvelous?" comments every visitor to this great moving pictures palace. "Every part of the show has its own particular colorings—the lights seem to carry you along with the performance. I wonder how they do it?"

Many visiting C. E. W. students who have attended the Uptown Theater, just a mile east of the plant on Lawrence Avenue, have also wondered how these remarkable lighting effects were secured.

The picture on the cover of this Review gives you a glimpse of what goes on "back stage" at the Uptown to produce those fascinating lighting effects. Through the courtesy of Balaban & Katz, owners, and Mr. Burnstine, Chief Electrician of the Uptown, members of the C. E. W. staff were permitted to inspect the electrical equipment and particularly the stage switchboard, which is the largest of its kind in the world. The equipment used is the Major System, remote control, preselective type, made by the Frank Adam Electric Co., St. Louis, Mo.

The Uptown's switchboard is a truly beautiful piece of electrical installation. Built of sectional steel, the board is 28 feet long and cost $1,000 a foot, or a total of $28,000 to construct. It contains 1056 separate controls and during a single performance, over 450 k.w. will pass through the board. Two electricians are constantly at work, operating the controls in accordance with a carefully worked out program.

Three banks of controls, shown in the picture, operate amber (yellow), red and blue lights, the colors being indicated by bull's-eye lights on the board and by colored knob on the controls. There are six master levers at the center of the board for dimming or brightening whole groups of lights, while the big wheel shown in the foreground operatres as many controls as may be selected. An automatic telephone on the board gives instant communication with any part of the theater.

The switches on the stage switchboard operate the lights through remote control, the current passing from this board to a duplicate board in the basement vault, containing the clapper magnets and contacts. The purpose of this is to save space and remove all noise from the stage, as the clapper magnets make considerable sound when closing or opening. There is also some arcing, and locating the second board in the basement removes the fire hazard.

A multitude of wires connects the stage and basement boards with the feed line and lights, the three-wire system, carrying 110 volts, being used throughout. The wires are so systematically and neatly arranged that any circuit can be traced out in a few minutes' time.

Two huge electric signs on the front of the theater, each containing close to 1,000 lights; thousands of other lights outlining the theater building and in the lobbies and rest rooms, as well as the current required for projectors, spotlights, and electric air-cooling machinery, bring the peak load at the Uptown up to 1100 k.w.—enough electricity to supply a good-sized town!


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Unknown said...

Such historical monuments inspire even more to absorb their thoughts in those days. This is one of my favorite hobbies. I have enough time for such a hobby thanks

Anonymous said...

I used to operate boards similar, to this of a later time period, and MUCH SMALLER. The max. We used was 250 KW to their 1100. We had a much smaller stage too!
What the article doesn't touch upon, is force needed to operate those dimmers. The Wheel helps a great deal and makes the Q's easier to execute!

Anonymous said...

The actual indicators could be off as much 40%. Working a system like that is an artform into itself!
Greg Spring


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