Ford Center for the Performing Arts
The Ford Center for the Performing Arts Oriental Theatre is a Chicago theatre now owned by the Nederlander Organization and is operated by Broadway In Chicago. It is located at 4 West Randolph Street in Chicago, Illinois’s Chicago Loop area downtown.
The Oriental Theatre opened in 1926 as one of many ornate movie palaces built in Chicago during the 1920s by the firm Rapp and Rapp. It was built on the same location as the former Iroquois Theatre, site of a disastrous 1903 fire that claimed over 600 lives.
The Oriental continued to be a vital part of Chicago’s theatre district into the 1960s, but patronage declined in the 1970s along with the fortunes of the Chicago Loop in general. Late in the decade, the theatre was showing exploitation films. It was closed in 1981 and sat vacant for more than a decade.
The Oriental is one of several houses now operating in Chicago’s revitalized Loop Theatre District. According to Richard Christiansen, the opening of the theatre spurred on the restoration of other theatres in the loop, "This is a tad premature, since it will be at least three years before all the new or restored theaters making up the North Loop theater district are in place. Still, the omens are there. On the façade of the Oriental (to be rechristened the Ford Center for the Performing Arts) a sign already is up for "Ragtime," the first musical to be presented in the restored movie palace".
The district is also home to the Cadillac Palace Theatre, Bank of America Theatre (formerly The Shubert Theatre), the Goodman Theatre, and the famous Chicago Theatre. Randolph Street was traditionally the center of downtown Chicago’s entertainment district until the 1960s when the area began to decline. The now demolished United Artists Theatre, Woods Theatre, and Roosevelt Theatre were located on or near Randolph Street.
The architects of the Oriental were George L. and Cornelius W. Rapp, who also built the Palace and Chicago Theatres. The Oriental features decor inspired by the architecture of India. The 3,250-seat theatre was operated by the city’s dominant theatre chain, Balaban and Katz.
In the late 1990s, the Oriental was renovated and restored, and it was reopened on October 18, 1998 with a reconfigured seating capacity of 2,253. The restored house now hosts the visiting companies of Broadway shows. The theatre’s full name is The Ford Center for the Performing Arts Oriental Theatre; however to locals it remains known as the Oriental Theatre.
During the expansion, architect Daniel P. Coffey came up with a design plan that could increase the theatre’s back stage area by gutting the adjacent Oliver Building while preserving one-third of its original steel structure, as well as the building’s Dearborn façade and a portion of its alley façade.