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Theatre History

The Music Box Theatre opened on August 22, 1929, a time when the movie palaces in downtown Chicago each had seating capacities of around 3,000 people. The Music Box, which sat 800, was considered an elaborate little brother to those theatres. Theatre Architecture magazine noted in 1929 that the theatre “represents the smaller, though charming and well equipped, sound picture theatre which is rapidly taking the place of the ‘deluxe’ palace.”

The Music Box Theatre: In Depth

THE BUILDING The theatre was built for a cost of $110,000. The entire building, which also included nine storefronts and 32 apartments, cost $260,000. The building was designed by Louis A. Simon, a local architect who was better known for his Depression-era WPA Post Offices and homes for the nouveau riche. The building was erected by The Southport Avenue Businessmen’s Association and operated by Lasker and Sons, who operated several smaller neighborhood houses in Chicago.

INNOVATION The design of the Music Box was indicative of the growth of the motion picture. The Music Box had no stage and, therefore, could only be a film presentation house. When the theatre was built, sound films were a new technology, and the plans included both an orchestra pit and organ chambers if sound films failed and silent film accompaniment was needed.

ARCHITECTURAL STYLE As Chicago Tribune architectural critic Paul Gapp wrote (Arts & Books, July 31, 1983), "The architectural style is an eclectic melange of Italian, Spanish and Pardon-My-Fantasy put together with passion." The actual style is called “atmospheric”. The dark blue, cove-lit ceiling with “twinkling stars” and moving cloud formations suggests a night sky. The plaster ornamentation of the side walls, round towers, faux-marble loggia and ogee-arched organ chambers are, by Hollywood standards, reminiscent of the walls surrounding an Italian courtyard. Overall the effect is to make the patron feel that they are watching a film in an open air palazzo.


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