April 27, 2013

Thousands Show Up for Opening of Uptown Theatre!

From the archive... 5,000 Guests See Splendors of New Theater

Balaban & Katz Inaugurate Huge House with Private View.

By H. Campbell-Duncan.
Source: Chicago Evening Post, 18 August 1925, pg. 1-2.

Five thousand guests of Balaban & Katz filled the new Uptown theatre  last night to witness the final dress rehearsal of the inaugural bill before the doors should be thrown open at noon today to an eager and enthusiastic throng of movie fans.

As an honored member of an honorable profession—the Press, God bless it—I was accommodated with an sumptuous, crimson velvet arm chair in box E, right in the center of the glittering lodge horseshoe, beneath the huge balcony that sweeps in a graceful curve 170 feet from wall to wall of the immense auditorium.

It was a nice seat, roomy and deep and soft, with plenty of room for the knees. As I lounged in it vivid memories were aroused of the days when I used to shift uneasily on a kitchen chair, nailed to its neighbor with a piece of scantling, in a nickelodium. And that wasn't so very long ago, either.

Gives Place Once-Over.

But before settling down to enjoy the show I made the rounds of the gilded corredores [sic], passed in and out of the gracious salons and lofty foyers and generally gave the magnificent new shrine to the silent drama the professional once-over. At each corner and turn I encountered crimson uniformed ushers and attendants ready to give me courteous directions and information. They were everywhere and at a distance appeared like flaming hibiscus blossoms splashed against the deeper tones of rich hangings and mural decorations.

Passing thru the main entrance on Broadway into the lofty pillared foyer was to be thrilled by the orgy of expenditure displayed on every side. Money seems to have been poured out like water to make the Uptown theater the last word in cinema palace gorgeousness. The architects, I am told, refer to the style of the building as "Spanish Mexican renaissance." I've no doubt they are right.

Passing over an acre or so of oriental rugs with a depth of pile that gave the effect of walking upon moss, and following the sweeping curve of the grand staircase to the mezzanine floor, and so up another wide and gracious flight of broad steps thru a richly decorated hall, I found myself in one of [the] entrances to the vast balcony. Below me lay the spacious auditorium while on my right, climbing away up to the gilded ceiling, rose tier upon tier of seats, any one of which, I was told, assured perfect vision and hearing.

Up in the lofty roof softly modulated lights played aurora borealislike over a grandly proportioned dome.

Sees Orchestra Rise.

Returning to Box E, I sank back into my chair just in time to see the musicians, sixty of them, rise majestically from the depths of the orchestra pit to the level of the stage, while iridescent beams from a flood light played over them.

Fewer clothes and some seaweed in their hair and they might have been Neptune and his entourage rising from the sea.

Then came: "Oh, say! Can you see—?" With every one standing, followed by Tschaikowsky's "Capriccio Italienne," really awfully well played.

The rest of the program followed the halting course of the regular dress rehearsal, as such it was, with frequent interruptions by the stage manager. This official, megaphone in hand, popped on and off stage incessantly like the little bird in a cuckoo clock, with shouted order to the "flyman" up aloft or the electrician at the vast switchboard back stage.

All this to the huge delight of the audience.

But the show ran very smoothly nevertheless, and I venture to predict that today's performances will go thru like magic.

Given Elaborate Bill.

The bill was an elaborate sample of future programs. In addition to a news reel, a comedy and a feature picture, "The Lady Who Lied," with Lewis Stone, Nita Naidi and Virginia Valli, a gorgeous stage diverstissement. [sic] "Under Spanish Skies," was given with a great deal of excellent singing and dancing. There was also the Oriole orchestra from the Edgewater Beach hotel in a series of popular jazz numbers and several selections on the colossal Wurlitzer with Jesse Crawford at the console. [sic]

In celebration of the opening of the theater, the Central Uptown Chicago association is holding the pageant of 1925.

The entire north side, from Montrose to Argyle and from the lake to Halsted street is decorated with brilliantly colored illumination, flags, bunting and drapes.

Arrange Special Sales.

Free entertainment on the streets, parades, free band concerts and numerous other attractions are expected to bring the total of visitors to the neighborhood to at least 100,000 daily. The opening of the theater alone, it is estimated, will attract over half that number. Merchants are decorating their windows and arranging special sales. A window shoppers' contest with $5,000 in prizes is another attraction.

On four or five important street intersections band stands have been erected, and near by a free spectacular attraction will be given twice daily.

Flory, the death diver, who sets fire to his clothes and leaps into a tank of water from the top of a skyscraper, will perform afternoon and evening, as will the three Morak sisters, dainty beauties who will swing high in the air between buildings and sing to the crowds.

Dainty Marie, famous musical comedy and vaudeville "singing Venus," who retired from the stage to open a gymnasium for fashionable women on Sheridan road, also will contribute a spectacular act twice daily.

On Thursday night will be the "Parade of Colors," with over 200 floats in line, and on Friday night "The Parade of Uptown Prosperity," with nearly 300 floats in line.

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