Brief History | Timeline | Origins and Stats The Creators Architecture Art of the Auditorium

1837 Chicago becomes a city with 4,170 inhabitants. William Butler Ogden is elected the first mayor. Chicago’s first dramatic production The Idiot Witness or a Tale of Blood is performed in the Sauganash Hotel. Tickets are 75 cents.

1847 The first permanent theatre to be built in Chicago, Rice’s Theater, opens on June 28.

1856 Louis Sullivan is born on September 3 John Mills Van Osdel, the man considered Chicago’s first architect, designs the first cast-iron building for the Lake Street business district. Nearly 110,000 people now live in Chicago.

1862 Dankmar Adler enlists in the Union Army at age 18. He participates in campaigns in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Georgia before finishing his commission as draftsman for the Topographical Engineers’ Office of the Military Division of Tennessee.

1870 Potter Palmer opens the first Palmer House Hotel on the corner of State and Monroe Streets. The building, designed by Van Osdel, moves the focus of downtown from Lake Street to State Street.

1871  On October 8, at just after 9PM, a fire starts in the barn behind the O’Leary cottage on DeKoven street. In the next two days, most of the central city is destroyed in what is forever known as “The Great Chicago Fire.”

1875 Louis Sullivan returns to Chicago after studying architecture and design in Europe.

1879 Thomas Edison exhibits the light bulb for the first time.

1880 Although the steam elevator was patented in the 1850s, the first hydraulic elevators were pioneered in Chicago in the 1880s, making tall buildings possible.

1881 Dankmar Adler joins forces with Louis Sullivan, and together, they create their eponymous architecture firm, Adler & Sullivan.

1885 William Le Baron Jenney completes the Home Insurance Building in Chicago, the first skyscraper to use a metal skeleton frame. Alder and Sullivan design a theater in the Interstate Exposition Building for the Chicago Opera Festival.

1886 Haymarket affair. Ferdinand Wythe Peck, a Chicago businessman, incorporates the Chicago Auditorium Association on December 8 for the purpose of developing the world’s largest, grandest, most expensive theater. He plans for the building to include an office block and a first-class hotel. On the board of the Auditorium Association are Marshall Field, Edson Keith, Martin Ryerson, George Pullman, and other Chicago business tycoons. Adler and Sullivan are hired to design the project, based on their work at the Interstate Exposition Building.

1888 The Republican National Convention is held in the partially-finished Auditorium Building; Benjamin Harrison is nominated as the candidate. Adler and Sullivan hire the young Frank Lloyd Wright to work for their firm

1889 In July, the Auditorium’s first tenant, the Chicago Conservatory of Music and Dramatic Art, moves into the Auditorium Building. On December 9, President Benjamin Harrison dedicates the theatre before a standing-room-only crowd. Operatic idol Adelina Patti sings “Home, Sweet Home” for the opening night performance.. Adler and Sullivan open their offices on the 16th  and 17th floor of the Auditorium Building.

1891 The Chicago Symphony Orchestra debuts on October 16 and makes its home in the Auditorium Theatre, where it stays until its move to Orchestra Hall in 1904.

1893 Chicago hosts the World’s Columbian Exposition. Thousands of visitors from all around the world come to view the exhibits and visit the Midway with its Ferris wheel. Many of them attend the grand historical pageant America, held in the Auditorium Theatre.

1900 Booker T. Washington, the, Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute for the training of public school teachers addresses a capacity crowd at the Auditorium.

1909 Daniel Burnham, one of Chicago’s best-known architects, creates an organized plan for the growing city, preserving the lakefront as a park for the people.

1910 The Chicago Opera Association, later renamed the Chicago Civic Opera Company, takes up residence at the Auditorium Theatre. Its first performance is on November 3.

1912 Theodore Roosevelt gives his “Armageddon” speech at the theatre. “The time is ripe, and overripe, for a genuine Progressive movement, nationwide and justice-loving, sprung from and responsible to the people themselves … representing all that is best in the hopes, beliefs, and aspirations of the plain people who make up the immense majority,” he says. Roosevelt is nominated for President of the United States at the Auditorium Theatre by the National Progressive Party.

1919 The funeral of Cleofonte Campanini, conductor of the Chicago Opera Company, is held on the stage of the Auditorium Theatre.

1921 The Chicago Opera Company’s Auditorium performance of Madama Butterfly is Chicago’s first live radio broadcast.

1929 The Chicago Opera Company moves to its new home, leaving the theatre without a major tenant.

1933 In the midst of the Great Depression, Chicago raises $125,000 to refurbish the Auditorium Theatre in time for the Century of Progress World’s Fair.

1939 The Auditorium Theatre celebrates its 50th Anniversary.

1941 The building and theatre close to the public. The theatre is taken over by the city and used as a World War II Servicemen’s Center, complete with a bowling alley on the stage.

1946 Roosevelt University acquires the Auditorium Building and moves its operations into the space, but  the theatre remains closed.

1952 In order to widen Congress Street, a sidewalk is created through the south end of the building, destroying the Auditorium Building’s hotel cafe, the famous Long Bar, and other original public areas.

1960 Roosevelt Trustee Beatrice T. Spachner establishes the Auditorium Theatre Council to raise funds for the restoration of the theatre. Legendary Chicago architect Harry Weese volunteers his services to the project.

1967 After the Auditorium Theatre Council raises the funds necessary to restore the theatre, the Auditorium reopens on October 31 with New York City Ballet’s performance of George Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

1968 Anti-Vietnam war protesters clash with police in the streets outside the Auditorium and the Congress Hotel during the Democratic National Convention.

1968-75 The theatre serves as Chicago’s premier music house, with performances by Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Aretha Franklin, Janis Joplin, Nina Simone, Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac, Miles Davis,The Grateful Dead, and many others.

1969 Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater first performs at the Auditorium Theatre.

1970 The Auditorium Building joins the National Register of Historic Places.

1975 The Auditorium Theatre obtains National Historic Landmark status.

1976 The Auditorium Building obtains Chicago Landmark status.

1989 The Auditorium Theatre turns 100. Les Misérables opens, ushering in the Broadway era at the theatre.

1992 The Auditorium Theatre commemorates the 25th anniversary of its grand reopening.

1998 The Joffrey Ballet begins its residency at the Auditorium.

2000 The state of Illinois provides a $13 million grant for the theatre’s second major renovation.

2001 The Auditorium begins the first phase of its major restoration project, which includes conducting a paint analysis throughout the theatre and restoring the proscenium, seating area, and remarkable ceiling arches of the theatre to the original colors and finishes.

2002 The theatre initiates Phase II of the restorations, reconstructing its 113-year old stage,adding a new trap system and a new orchestra pit, installing three separate stage lifts andremovable seating, updateding artist dressing rooms, and establishing modern patron amenities. The Bolshoi Ballet performs to sold-out crowds and rave reviews the same year.

2003 The legal dispute between Auditorium Theatre Council and Roosevelt University is resolved. Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, Inc. is established.

2004 Broadway In Chicago becomes an Auditorium Theatre partner.

2005 The Auditorium Theatre launches Hearts to Art (originally Hands Together, Heart to Art), an award-winning performing arts camp for young people who have experienced the death of a parent.

2006 The theatre presents its first self-production, Too Hot to Handel: The Jazz-Gospel Messiah, performed in celebration of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

2008 Grand opera returns to the Auditorium Theatre with the Chicago premiere of Richard Danielpour and Toni Morrison’s Margaret Garner, with Denyce Graves in the title role.

The Auditorium hosts the memorial service for The Joffrey Ballet’s co-founder Gerald Arpino on November 17.

2009 The Auditorium celebrates its 120th birthday by transforming the stage into a 200-seat black box theater for a production of The Mistress Cycle.

2011 The theatre produces the four-month Miles Davis Festival and presents its first-ever commission, a choreographic work called Simply Miles, Simply Us by Frank Chaves of River North Dance Chicago.

2012 On March 12, the Auditorium hosts the Elevator Dedication to celebrate the addition of a long-anticipated renovation. The elevator gives access to all six levels of the theatre.

The Auditorium Theatre dedicates its Katten/Landau Studio in Roosevelt University new Wabash building on June 6. The studio serves as rehearsal space for visiting companies and is convertible to a black box for cabaret performances.

2013 The Auditorium Theatre commissions the five-month long MUSIC + MOVEMENT FESTIVAL, welcoming some of the best Chicago musicians and dance companies for a celebration that spans from February through June.. In a series of collaborations, 11 dance companies pair off with musicians to create brand new works.

2014 The Auditorium Theatre announces the 125th Anniversary Season,to be celebrated from September 2014-August 2015. Learn more about our 125th here.

2015 The theatre hosts the NFL draft, marking the first time the draft is held outside of New York City in over 50 years. 

2016 The theatre hosts the NFL draft for the second year in a row. 

2017 The theatre commemorates the 50th anniversary of its grand re-opening with A Golden Celebration of Dance, featuring performances from companies that represent the past, present, and future of dance at the Auditorium, including American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, The Joffrey Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, and more.

2017 The Auditorium hosts Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and opera singer Kathleen Battle, among other inspiring speakers and performers.

2018 The Auditorium announces its 2018-19 Season, which features the Chicago premiere of American Ballet Theatre’s Whipped Cream, the North American premiere of Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg’s The Pygmalion Effect, , speakers from National Geographic Live, Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Trinity Irish Dance Company, and more.

Origins & Stats

The Creators