Brief History

Brief HistoryTimelineOrigins and Stats The Creators Architecture Art of the Auditorium

The Building

The Auditorium Theatre is a National Historic Landmark known internationally for its perfect acoustics, innovative architecture, and stunning design.

The idea for the Auditorium Theatre began with a Chicago businessman named Ferdinand Wythe Peck. He was dedicated to improving the city of Chicago, and after the Haymarket Square riot in 1886, he began plans for a structure he called the Auditorium Building. This structure included not only a theatre, but also an office block and a hotel.Peck envisioned a theatre that would be open to all Chicagoans, and incorporated Chicago Auditorium Association for the purpose of developing the world’s largest, grandest, most expensive building.

The famous architectural firm of Adler and Sullivan designed the theatre, which officially opened in 1889, using the most modern technology at the time, including electric lighting and air conditioning. They pushed the limits of modern architecture to make the Auditorium the then-tallest building in Chicago, the first multi-use building ever designed, and the most massive modern edifice in the world at the time.

Though the Auditorium opened to immense critical acclaim, what began as a masterfully-designed opera house that sprang from the minds of geniuses gradually fell into disrepair. Although the theatre remained open throughout the Great Depression, it eventually closed down entirely during the 1940s, 1950s, and most of the 1960s. In 1967, a brilliantly restored theatre reopened to the public with a special performance by the New York City Ballet, performing George Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Thanks to multiple restoration and conservation projects, visitors today can enjoy the radiant 24-karat gold-leafed ceiling arches, hundreds of Sullivan’s beautifully restored intricate stencil patterns, ornate gilded and bas-relief designs, murals by Charles Holloway and Albert Fleury, and endless floor and wall mosaics.

The Performers

For 130 years, the Auditorium Theatre has evolved. While the theatre’s programming has adapted and grown, it has always remained dedicated to providing the highest quality of artistic experiences while preserving the storied principles upon which it was founded.

Former Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William McKinley gave speeches on the same stage where, years later, incandescent musicians such as Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Aretha Franklin, and Elton John would perform. Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles captivated audiences in the same space where Les Misérables and Phantom of the Opera would play to sold-out crowds. From Frank Sinatra to Itzhak Perlman, Isadora Duncan to The Royal Ballet, The Beach Boys to Booker T. Washington, the Auditorium has welcomed legends to its stage.

Today, the Auditorium Theatre presents programming that reflects the diversity and the complexity of the city of Chicago and the world around us, from inspiring dance companies like Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, American Ballet Theatre, and Ballet Folklórico de México to uplifting performances including Too Hot to Handel, Kathleen Battle, and Bernadette Peters and the Boston Pops. Chicago’s best local dance companies, such as Giordano Dance Chicago, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, and Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater, are showcased in the “Made in Chicago” Dance Series. The National Geographic Live Speaker Series, launched in the 2018-19 season, brings audacious explorers to the theatre’s stage to share their stories, videos, and photographs. The theatre also hosts rock stars like Neil Young, David Byrne, and David Gilmour.

For a more in-depth look at the Auditorium Theatre’s historical moments, check out our Historic Timeline.

Historic Timeline

Origin & Stats