Saturday, September 1, 2018

September 1, 1977 -- Oriental Theatre Prepares to Close

September 1, 1977 – Employees at the Oriental Theatre, the second largest theater in the Loop, are told that the venue will close its doors at the end of the month unless a new tenant can be found. Mickey Gold, the theater’s manager, says, “There is no panic.  Different people have lost leases on this and other theaters in the past, and we hope it will stay open.”  The Oriental opened in 1926 with an ornate design by the firm of Rapp and Rapp. It was built on the same site on which the Iroquois Theater stood, the theater in which over 600 people lost their lives in 1903.  In its best days, the most famous performers in the country graced its stage, but in the 1970’s the theater mirrored the general decline of the Loop during that era.  A 1971 experiment to bring live entertainment to the Oriental with such acts as Gladys Knight and the Pips and Stevie Wonder lost promoters $115,000.  The story ends happily as on January 10, 1996 a Canadian theatrical company purchased the property with a promise to renovate it, a plan that would be helped along with a $13.5 million grant from the city.  Although the company declared bankruptcy in 1998, the project was completed and on October 18, 1998 the theater reopened with a seating capacity of 2,253. In the restoration, architect Daniel P. Coffey came up with a plan that increased the theater’s backstage area by expanding into the adjacent Oliver Building.  Today the Ford Center for the Performing Arts Oriental Theatre is one of the downtown palaces that hosts touring Broadway shows. 

September 1, 1949 – At the end of August the Chicago Daily Tribune carried a report on the death of noted landscape architect, Jens Jensen.  Oops.  Wrong guy.  It turns out that a 65-year-old Door Country, Wisconsin resident with a similar name was the guy who rode the Great Skyway and not Mr. Jensen, who is alive and well in his home in Ellison Bay.  Taking advantage of the error, the paper publishes a flattering piece on the contributions of Jensen, who came to the United States from Denmark in the early 1890’s and began work as a laborer in the west parks system of Chicago, going on to be one of the premier landscape architects of the twentieth century.  “Jens Jensen had a simple set of precepts,” the paper observes, “which he clung to stubbornly in the face of both politicians and millionaire clients, and defended with the rage of an inspired Viking when aroused.  He believed in the beauty of nature.  He detested formal gardens.  He taught the middle west the value of its native trees and plants in landscaping.” [Chicago Daily Tribune, September 1, 1949] The article continued, “To him, parks were placed where city people should find the comfort of natural beauty.  They were not for batting baseballs.  Neither were they automobile speedways.  In his judgment, 15 miles an hour was fast enough for people entering the parks to enjoy the lawns, the crab apple blooms, and the hawthorns.  In a day when efforts are made to encroach on the parks for almost every other public use, a revival of the Jensen principles would be a healthy thing for Chicago.”  Perhaps Jens Jensen's greatest work in Chicago is Columbus Park, shown in the photo above.

September 1, 1925 – Two days after the South Water Street market closes for business, the Chicago Daily Tribune rails against the street that will replace it, specifically the fact that the new road along the river will be named after Charles H. Wacker, the head of the Chicago Plan Commission.  “It is small town stuff at its worst,” the paper proclaims, “to rename South Water street because it is double decked and remade . . . We certainly acknowledge Mr. Charles Wacker’s civic spirit and his useful service in the protection and realization of the city plan . . . But to give his name to the chief thoroughfare of the city, after Michigan boulevard, is not only crude vandalism, but without fitness of proportion.  Mr. Wacker has been a useful citizen, but his service in the city does not tower above that of all other citizens . . . what of Daniel Burnham, who was the creator of the city plan, one of the most famous and gifted of our citizens? If we give Mr. Wacker’s name to our second greatest street, how are we going to honor Burnham with any respect for proportion?

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