Picture Palaces of the Silent Film Era

In the early days of Hollywood, what were once humble, if primitive, nickelodeons soon evolved into beautiful, opulent theaters. They became gorgeous picture palaces that could easily seat thousands of audience members.

silent film Majestic Theatre

Not only did this embody the upper and wealthier classes’ acceptance of the film industry as a legitimate form of entertainment, it also reflected the pedestal that the actors and actresses in these films would soon be placed upon.

Chicago Theatre

In Chicago, the team responsible for building many of these theaters, theaters that are still standing today, was the team of Balaban and Katz. Founded by theater owners A. J. Balaban, Barney Balaban, Sam Katz, and Morris Katz, Balaban and Katz were responsible for building more than 50 theaters in the Chicagoland area, including the iconic Chicago Theatre (the flagship of the theater circuit) which is still standing. In fact, when it opened on October 26, 1921, the Chicago Theatre was called ‘The Wonder Theatre of the World.’ Most of the theaters were built by the architectural firm Rapp and Rapp and reflect their signature Neo-Baroque French-revival style, and all were just as eager to wow filmgoers with their facade as with their interior.

State Theatre

Other Balaban and Katz owned theaters included the State Theatre, the Apollo and the Oriental Theatre. Some the of theaters, like Chicago and Uptown, have been declared Chicago landmarks and are on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

Chicago has a rich history of being home to some of the greatest film theaters in the history of cinema, but it is also responsible for decorating many of those beautiful theaters that fell outside the city and even state lines.

silent film Orpheum Theatre

The Decorator’s Supply Company — which is still in business, by the way — was responsible for creating the facades and interior decorations of some of the most impressive film houses in the country. The Orpheum Theatre in St. Joseph, Missouri got the Decorator’s touch, as did the Garfield Theatre and the Grand Theatre.

garfield grand

Aside from Chicago’s theater past, it was the home to many successful early film studios and even played host to Charlie Chaplin when he filmed the short “His New Job.”

Interested in learning more about the history of silent film? Check out the rest of our silent film series.

Want to dive deeper into the world of silent film? Keep up with my posts over on Curtains or on Chicago Nitrate.