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Studebaker Theater

Studebaker Theater

First Opened: 29th September 1898 (121 years ago)

Reopened: 1st November 1917, December 1982 (as a movie theatre), 18th October 2015

Former Names: Studebaker Hall, Fine Arts 1

Status: Open for special events

Website: www.studebakertheater.com Open website in new window

Telephone: (312) 753-3210 Call (312) 753-3210

Address: 410 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60605 Show address in Google Maps (new window)

Featured Photos

Overview

The Studebaker Theater is located within the Chicago Fine Arts Building and originally opened as Studebaker Hall in 1898. The theatre underwent a major remodel in late 1917 and reopened as the Studebaker Theater. Used exclusively as a movie theatre from December 1982, it closed in November 2000, underwent restoration during 2014-15, and reopened as a live entertainment and events venue in October 2015.

The building façade dates from 1885
The building façade dates from 1885

Chicago-based architect Solon S. Beman designed the building in 1884 as a showroom and factory for the Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company, at the time the largest producer of horse-drawn vehicles in the world. The building opened in 1885 with a large showroom and service facility at street level, with factory manufacturing space above. By 1896 the Studebakers had outgrown the building and moved to a larger facility. They subsequently contracted Beman to convert the building into an artistic and literary center.

Entrance to the Fine Arts Building as designed in 1898
Entrance to the Fine Arts Building as designed in 1898

In 1898 the building reopened as the Fine Arts Building, the intent being “to provide a central point for the cultivation of music ... as well as the higher arts, and a place where the results of study and the accomplishments of noteworthy things in art could find expression in a way that would prove beneficial to the public”.

The new Studebaker Hall occupied the street-level space where the carriage showroom had previously been located, and opened in late September 1898. A second, smaller, venue was created next to Studebaker Hall, called University Hall and intended for recitals. It opened on 4th October 1898.

The upper floors of the building were used as studios or offices for musicians, artists, writers, architects, and artistic organizations. Notable tenants include Frank Lloyd Wright, L. Frank Baum, the Chicago Women’s Club, and the Chicago Musical College.

Studebaker Hall, as designed in 1898
Studebaker Hall in 1898
The Studebaker Theater, as re-designed in 1917
The Studebaker Theater, as re-designed in 1917

Studebaker Hall looked quite different to the current Studebaker Theater due to a major renovation in 1917. The hall originally featured a curved proscenium arch with box seating arranged in three galleries.

Studebaker Hall was noted for its excellent acoustics and beautiful interior. It was used for popular music, recitals, meetings, light opera, and plays.

The hall was originally outfitted with a 3-manual, 49-rank Kimball organ, visible at the House Right side of the Orchestra Pit in early photos of the hall.

The organ was dedicated on 24th February 1899 with “a fine musical program, in which a number of prominent artists took part, to the pleasure of a very large and fashionable audience”. “Music” magazine of March 1899 Link opens in new window reported a detailed description:

It is not known if the organ was removed as part of the 1917 remodel or removed at a later date.

The 1898 ceiling, the only part of the auditorium to survive the 1917 renovation
The 1898 ceiling, the only part of the auditorium to survive the 1917 renovation

Connor & Dillingham of New York leased the hall in 1907, then Klaw & Erlanger took over in 1913. The Shubert Organization assumed the lease in late 1917 and undertook a major renovation (architect A.N. Rebori is credited with the new main floor, balcony, gallery, stage, and remodeled proscenium arch) giving us the Studebaker Theater we see today. Only the ceiling of the 1898 hall remained. The theatre re-opened on 1st November 1917. A 1922 entry in the Chicago Central Business and Office Guide lists the seating capacity of the Studebaker Theatre [sic] as 1,330.

The appearance of the Studebaker Theater today dates from the major renovation undertaken in 1917
The appearance of the Studebaker Theater today dates from the major renovation undertaken in 1917

Throughout the 1930s and early 1940s the theatre was leased to a number of operators. In 1944 the Central Church took on the lease and held services within the theatre until early 1950.

NBC used the theatre as a television studio from 1950 until 1955, with some of the earliest live television broadcasts coming from the theatre.

In 1956 the Studebaker was reopened as a theatre and was managed by a number of operators, including the Nederlander Organization, with events becoming ever more sporadic until the theatre closed in October 1982.

The Playhouse Theater in 2019
The Playhouse Theater in 2019

The smaller venue adjacent to the Studebaker Theater, originally opened as University Hall in 1898, was renamed the Music Hall sometime around 1903 when it had a balcony added. Further remodeling of the Music Hall took place in either 1908 or 1912 and it was renamed the Fine Arts Theater. In 1912 it was completely rebuilt, with further renovations taking place in 1916/17 (in line with the major changes to the Studebaker Theater next door), when it was renamed the Playhouse Theater. Seating capacity of the Playhouse Theater was listed in the 1922 Chicago Central Business and Office Guide as 630. In April 1933, just prior to the 1933-34 Chicago World’s Fair, the Playhouse Theater was renamed the World Playhouse, essentially becoming Chicago’s first dedicated foreign and art film theatre. The World Playhouse closed in 1972 however was renovated and reopened in 1980 playing host to chamber music concerts.

The Studebaker Theater in 2019
The Studebaker Theater in 2019

In December 1982 M&R Amusement Company announced their intention to convert the Studebaker Theater, and the adjoining smaller theatre, into movie theatres. The Studebaker would seat roughly 1,200 and the Playhouse 550. The Playhouse occasionally staged live performances. In 1983 the stage of the Studebaker was converted into a third screen seating 240, and the stage of the Playhouse followed suit, creating a fourth screen for 158, in 1984. The entire operation eventually closed in 2000.

In 2005 the Fine Arts Building came under new ownership. The Studebaker Theater started undergoing renovations in 2015, and reopened in 2016 with seating capacity for 740 on the Orchestra and Mezzanine levels. The Gallery level is closed to the public. The Playhouse Theater is currently closed and awaits renovation.

The Fine Arts Building contains a manually operated public elevator, one of only a handful left throughout the U.S.

How do I visit the Studebaker Theater?

The Studebaker is open only for special events. Viewing may be possible by contacting the theatre by telephone.

The Studebaker Theater and Fine Arts Building have previously participated in Open House Chicago events. Check the Open House Chicago website Link opens in new window for future events.

Upcoming Special Events
The Dragon of Wantley

The Dragon of Wantley (27th October 2019, 5:30pm)

The Dragon of Wantley has been terrorizing the countryside of Yorkshire, eating its children like bonbons. The country people appeal to the local hero, Moore of Moore Hall, to do battle with it. In return Moore demands the hand of Margery, a fair maid of sixteen, which arouses the jealousy of Mauxalinda, his cast-off mistress. Despite these romantic distractions and his proclivity for multiple pints of ale, will Moore ambush the Dragon or will the wrath of Mauxalinda be the death of him?

Tickets $30 to $95.

Click here to go to the event website. Link opens in new window




Inside Ear Hustle

Inside Ear Hustle (1st November 2019, 7:30pm)

WBEZ’s Podcast Passport, in partnership with Radiotopia from PRX, presents a conversation with the creators of one of the most original podcasts of our time: Ear Hustle. Join Morning Shift host Jenn White and Ear Hustle co-hosts Nigel Poor and Earlonne Woods for a lively discussion about the show’s unique origin story and surprising evolution across four seasons.

Ear Hustle offers insight into daily life inside and after prison, shared by those living it. The podcast is a partnership between Poor, a Bay Area visual artist and educator, and Woods, formerly incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison.

The Ear Hustle team works in the San Francisco Bay Area, both in San Quentin State Prison’s media lab and from offices on the outside, to produce stories that are sometimes difficult, often funny and always honest. Episodes offer a nuanced view of people involved with the American prison system and those reintegrating into society after serving time.

Click here to go to the event website. Link opens in new window




The Art Deco Nutcracker

The Art Deco Nutcracker (6th December 2019, 7pm)

Set in 1920s America, Kremnev’s “The Art Deco Nutcracker”, featuring Tchaikovsky’s beloved score, is a fresh, yet traditional take on the beloved holiday favorite. The Chicago Tribune has described it as “A glossy rendition filled with gorgeous, glitzy costumes” and The Cincinnati Enquire writes that Kremnev has “brought dance to a whole new level”.

“The Art Deco Nutcracker” is Kremnev’s eighth full-length ballet. His work has been presented at the world-renowned Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, Lincoln Center in New York, and the Opernhaus Zurich in Switzerland, among other prestigious venues across the globe. The Huffington Post describes his choreography as “encompassing the best and brilliance of what movement can be while breaking boundaries of what we know”.

Click here to go to the event website. Link opens in new window

Further Reading

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Historic Photos & Documents

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Photos of the Studebaker Theater

Jump to Photo Section:

  1. Auditorium - Orchestra Level
  2. Auditorium - Mezzanine Level
  3. Auditorium - Balcony Level
  4. Auditorium - Closeups
  5. Public Areas
  6. Exterior
  7. Stage
  8. Fly Floors and Attic
  9. Projection Booth
  10. Basement
  11. The Playhouse
Auditorium - Orchestra Level

The Orchestra section is at street level and has a seating capacity of 413.

The Studebaker Theater’s auditorium dates from the major renovation undertaken in 1917 by architect A.N. Rebori, aside from the ceiling which is original to the 1898 Studebaker Hall designed by Solon S. Beman.

Auditorium - Mezzanine Level

The Mezzanine has seating for 302, not including Boxes.

The Studebaker Theater’s auditorium dates from the major renovation undertaken in 1917 by architect A.N. Rebori, aside from the ceiling which is original to the 1898 Studebaker Hall designed by Solon S. Beman.

Auditorium - Balcony Level

The Balcony level is closed-off to the public, including the Balcony boxes which are used for technical equipment. The Projection Booth located on this level is not original.

The Studebaker Theater’s auditorium dates from the major renovation undertaken in 1917 by architect A.N. Rebori, aside from the ceiling which is original to the 1898 Studebaker Hall designed by Solon S. Beman.

Auditorium - Closeups

The Studebaker Theater’s auditorium dates from the major renovation undertaken in 1917 by architect A.N. Rebori, aside from the ceiling which is original to the 1898 Studebaker Hall designed by Solon S. Beman.

Public Areas

The lobby of the Fine Arts Building runs the full width of the building, with entrances from the street at either end. The center of the lobby affords access to the Studebaker Theater, and the Playhouse is accessed from the north end of the lobby. Elevators to upper levels of the building are located in the space between the lobby and stores which face onto the street.

Exterior

The first eight floors of the Fine Arts Building are original to the 1884-85 building designed by Solon S. Beman. The 9th and 10th floors were added in Beman’s update of 1898 during the conversion into the Fine Arts Building.

The rear alley and loading area is shared with the Auditorium Theatre.

Stage

Dressing Rooms were originally located Stage Right in a stack at the side of the stage, with Chorus Rooms at Gallery level extending into the auditorium behind the Boxes. There are still doors into the Galley from these long-abandoned Chorus Rooms.

The stage does not have a full height grid and so the fire curtain is a brailled curtain by J.R. Clancey, which bunches-up above the proscenium when not in use. Currently all flown goods are dead-hung.

Fly Floors and Attic

Pin Rails were located at two levels on Stage Right outside the Dressing Rooms, with a main Fly Floor (and Pin Rail) on Stage Left.

The grid still contains head blocks from the days when the theatre was a hemp house.

Projection Booth

The Projection Booth, located in the Gallery, was not an original installation nor dates from the major 1917 renovation. It was likely added in the 1920s although no further information is available for its installation.

Basement

The basement houses largely infrastructure, including the early 20th Century freight elevator.

The Playhouse

The Playhouse was originally opened as University Hall in October 1898 and has been through many names over the years. It was most recently used as a movie theatre and currently awaits renovation.



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