The Uptown Theatre, a Palace of Dreams


“It outdoes your dreams,” the advertisements declared. “IT WILL HUSH AND THRILL YOU. It throbs with beauty—lovely enough to hold the heart of a woman all her life. You will love it.”

These ads were promoting the grand opening of the Uptown Theatre on August 18, 1925. “Magnificence beyond all your dreams—rising in mountainous splendor and might—an enchanted palace—a house of magic beauty. …  Great and beautiful as a magic city—AN ACRE OF SEATS under a romantic and color-lit twilight from myriads of unseen lamps. … One of the great art-buildings of the world—and in it, room for everybody! … It opens Tuesday! … an event you will remember all your life…”1

With 4,381 seats, it was the world’s largest cinema at the time2—and to this day, it stands as one of the grandest movie palaces ever constructed. “A Palace of Dreams is right!” the Chicago Herald and Examiner’s Polly Wood wrote after attending the opening festivities. “You can completely believe the advertisements.”3

A reporter for Variety was also blown away by the Uptown Theatre’s magnificence, writing: “Eclipsing in size, splendor and impressiveness anything that has been built in the last few years of hectic theatre construction, this new house is not only beyond doubt the most gorgeous movie palace in the world, but is so far above its neighborhood that the North Side will be years before it is worthy of it.”4

Clearly, Variety’s writer—a correspondent in Chicago’s Loop for the New York–based entertainment newspaper—wasn’t that impressed by the neighborhood surrounding the theater. Of course, this outlying neighborhood would never rival the Loop as Chicago’s densest cluster of skyscrapers, commerce, and culture. But in truth, Uptown, which had been a patch of rustic countryside on Chicago’s outskirts only 25 years earlier, was now more like a city within the city.

Uptown’s building boom showed no signs of slowing down. In 1924, the Sheridan Trust and Savings Bank had moved into an eight-story building clad with white terra cotta, towering over the southeast corner of Broadway and Lawrence Avenue. It was one of Chicago’s largest office structures outside the Loop,5 and it had the city’s second-largest bank vault.6 (Four more floors would be added to the top of the building in 1928.7) Across the street, Loren Miller’s department store had taken over the bank’s former building and was expanding to fill an entire block.

The Uptown Theatre, as seen from Broadway in 2024. Photo by Robert Loerzel.

With the opening of the Balaban & Katz Corporation’s massive new theater at 4816 North Broadway, local residents and merchants could take pride in the fact that their neighborhood had a movie palace even larger than the Chicago Theatre, the Uptown Theatre’s downtown sister. The surrounding business district celebrated the theater’s opening with parades and pageantry.8 Uptown—which had only recently acquired that name—was trumpeting its importance to the world at large. Uptown has probably never been as crowded as it was during that week of August 1925, when an estimated 750,000 people turned out for six days of festivities.9 People danced in the streets,10 while a daredevil known as Flory repeatedly set himself on fire, jumping from a building at Broadway and Sunnyside Avenue into a small tank of water.11

The public had first learned about the plans for this theater more than two years earlier. On May 20, 1923, the Chicago Daily Tribune reported that Balaban & Katz planned to build “a gigantic … moving picture playhouse” on the land immediately north and west of the Green Mill Gardens building, including that venue’s garden area.12

Five days after that report, Tom Chamales and Otto Annoreno, who shared ownership of the Green Mill Gardens property, sold a chunk of the land to Barney Balaban, Sam Katz, and Herbert L. Stern13 for $400,000, or $7 million in today’s money.14 They sold the garden on their building’s west side as well as a 10-foot-wide strip of land under the building’s north edge.

The rest of the Green Mill Gardens building remained Annoreno and Chamales’s property. But Catherine Hoffman—whose late father, “Pop” Morse, had opened the original roadhouse at this site in 1897—and her husband believed they still owned the property, including the portions Chamales and Annoreno sold to Balaban & Katz. The Hoffmans alleged that Annoreno and Chamales owed them “a very large sum” from this land sale—an accusation never proven in court.15

This Sanborn fire insurance map was updated in August 1924, showing the Uptown Theatre, which was still under construction at the time. Chicago, Volume 17 (New York: Sanborn Map Company, 1905; updated through August 1924), 79, Chicago History Museum.

This wasn’t the first deal involving Tom Chamales and Balaban & Katz. Back in 1917, Chamales started building the Riviera Theatre, designed by the Rapp & Rapp architectural firm, at the southwest corner of Lawrence Avenue and Broadway. When that project stalled, Balaban & Katz completed the Riviera’s construction and started leasing it from Chamales for $25,000 a year.16 (Read more about the Riviera in Chapter 19.)

When the 2,600-seat Riviera opened in 1918, it was one of the country’s largest movie theaters.17 Variety called it “magnificent,”18 while Balaban & Katz’s advertisements boasted that it was “Chicago’s Newest and America’s Finest Theatre.”19 But B&K soon built bigger and even more grandiose movie palaces. These fanciful structures seemed like “miracles” to Chicagoan movie critic William R. Weaver, who described the businessmen constructing them as “modern necromancers.”20

In 1921, Balaban & Katz unveiled two of its crown jewels. In the South Side’s Woodlawn neighborhood, the company opened the 3,600-seat Tivoli Theatre at Cottage Grove Avenue and 63rd Street, a transportation hub said to be one of the city’s busiest intersections. And in the midst of the city’s bustling downtown, Balaban & Katz built the 3,880-seat Chicago Theatre at 175 North State Street.

The Chicago Theatre in 1927. Photo by Kaufmann & Fabry Company. ICHi-010987. Chicago History Museum.

Like the Riviera, both of these movie palaces were designed by Rapp & Rapp, a firm run by two brothers from southern Illinois, Cornelius Ward Rapp and George Leslie Rapp. These construction projects pushed Balaban & Katz into debt, but Barney Balaban was confident that the Tivoli and the Chicago Theatre would pull in big audiences. “Both theatres are located at points where rapid development in motion picture theatres can be expected,” he said.21

C.W. Rapp saw a logic behind the locations chosen by Balaban & Katz. “They have always selected the sites for theatre buildings that will be handiest for the public—never the sites that would be cheapest for them,” the architect wrote. “… They put the theatres where the public can reach them in greatest ease.”22

Weaver, the movie critic, recalled sometimes questioning why Balaban & Katz would open yet another theater. Who was going to fill all of those seats? But Weaver noticed how each of these construction projects had a ripple effect: “community life in its immediate vicinity quickened in anticipation of its opening, new stores springing into life, new values stirring neighborhood trade.” And when the theaters opened, they “burst rocket-like in full blown magnificence upon an awed and worshipful public,” Weaver wrote. That led him to conclude that Balaban & Katz understood “the psychology of show business” better than anyone else on earth.23

Still, it’s hard not to share Weaver’s initial doubts if you look at Balaban & Katz’s decision to build the Uptown Theatre. The company was already operating the Riviera, which was just a few years old. And the surrounding neighborhood was saturated with movie houses. In 1924, this part of the North Side had nearly two dozen movie theaters with a total of almost 25,000 seats, giving it the highest theater-seat-to-resident ratio of any Chicago neighborhood outside the Loop. Uptown’s theaters reportedly sold $50 million in tickets a year.24

But Balaban & Katz must have known that movie ticket sales were still growing. In 1920, Americans had purchased 18.6 movie tickets per capita; by 1930, that number would hit an all-time high of 38. (In comparison, today’s Americans buy an average of only two movie tickets a year.)25 So, it didn’t seem crazy to construct yet another theater in Uptown, with enough seats to accommodate more than 4,000 people at every screening.

By the mid-1920s, small theaters were out of fashion. Barney Balaban argued that it was more efficient to operate mammoth cinemas. “Properly operated moving picture houses having larger theatre capacity can be more economically operated,” he said.26 In theory, it would cost less to run one theater seating 4,000 people than 40 theaters with 100 seats each. “Smaller houses cannot afford to put in conveniences for patrons that larger houses can,” said Ernest Lieberman, a structural engineer who worked on the Uptown Theatre. “A 4,000-seat house at this time could have all improvements now known in the industry.”27

But it may well be that Balaban & Katz just wanted to own a theater in this part of the North Side, rather than continuing to lease the Riviera from a landlord. This time, Balaban & Katz would control every detail of the project from the moment it got started. B&K hired their favorite architects, Rapp & Rapp, to concoct a fairyland castle.

As they embarked on this project, the movie theater chain and the architectural firm had offices across the street from each other in the Loop. Balaban & Katz’s office was in the Chicago Theatre,28 while Rapp & Rapp worked on the top floor of the State-Lake Theater at 190 North State Street, which they’d designed for the Orpheum vaudeville company in 1919. (The building now houses the studios of WLS Channel 7, with windows along the sidewalk where pedestrians can watch newscasts as they’re being broadcast.)29

Barney Balaban spent many hours huddled over the drafting table of C.W. Rapp, according to the 2014 book Rapp & Rapp: Architects, written by the Rapp brothers’ great-nephew Charles Ward Rapp. The book describes Barney Balaban and C.W. Rapp’s working relationship: “Together, they faced the endless problems of creating new temples of entertainment, and since Balaban was in debt anyway, cost ceased to be an object. The imaginative Balaban sometimes got ahead of himself, and Rapp would say something like: If you’re the architect you don’t need me. At such moments, Balaban backed away, but frequently he sought another authority by pulling aside any workman on the job to ask if he liked a certain treatment. If not, Balaban was known to order the offending portion torn out. To him the common man was the potential customer who knew best.”30

The Tribune reported that work began on the Uptown Theatre in early February 1924.31 Photos show the garden area west of the Green Mill building being cleared to make way for the movie palace. Meanwhile, 10 feet were sliced off the Green Mill building’s north end as excavation began.

Chicago Architecture Photographing Company (Theatre Historical Society of America collection

The city issued a building permit on May 1. Later that month, city inspectors observed pile-driving. The theater’s steel framework began taking shape in June. The roof’s steel beams were being riveted in October. All of the steel was in place by the end of November.32

Balaban & Katz said they spent more than $4 million constructing the Uptown Theatre (roughly $70 million in today’s dollars).33 According to architect C.W. Rapp, Balaban & Katz spared no expense when building their movie palaces. That seemed obvious to anyone looking at all of the ornaments and decor. But it was also true of the structures themselves, Rapp said, explaining that Balaban & Katz used one-third more steel than was considered necessary, to make sure their theaters were structurally sound. Rapp said the movie palace impresarios showed a “prodigality of precaution and sincerity of purpose,” sinking vast steel posts extra deep into the bedrock and putting two steel posts in places where only one was needed. All of this extra effort “strengthens and strengthens a house until it becomes certain that hundreds of years must pass before Time will notice it,” Rapp said.34

As Rapp & Rapp and Balaban & Katz designed the Uptown Theatre, they employed an innovation they’d used for the Chicago Theatre: a balcony spanning the auditorium’s entire width without any columns blocking views of the stage. “This free-span balcony was particularly breathtaking to the 1921 public who had never seen such a thing,” Charles Ward Rapp wrote in his book. “… Compared to the old way of pillars and posts, the Chicago’s balcony seemed to counter the law of gravity.” The design didn’t actually defy any laws of physics—it just made smart use of truss cantilevers and a steel-and-concrete cross beam to support the balcony.35

The view from the Chicago Theatre’s balcony during a concert by Wilco on December 19, 2019. Photo by Robert Loerzel.

The Chicago Theatre’s cantilevered balcony was far bigger than any that had been built up until that time. “Seeing a balcony as large without supports must have been a jarring sight, surely they would collapse under its own weight, to say nothing of when it was full of people,” an article by the Theatre Historical Society of America notes. “Now they are commonplace, but imagine seeing one for the first time when you were used to columns holding them up.”

To test the balcony’s strength—and to reassure the public—Balaban & Katz loaded it up with sandbags and circulated photos of the successful test.36 A similar stunt was publicized at the Uptown Theatre—but this time, bags of cement weighing 120,000 pounds were piled on the floor of the lobby, demonstrating the structure’s “Super-Safety.”37

Employees of the Sheridan Trust & Savings Bank pose for a photo with the cement bags in the Uptown Theatre lobby. Balaban & Katz Magazine, via Compass Rose.

The Uptown’s balcony spans across an auditorium 170 feet wide and 213 feet deep, with a ceiling about 100 feet above the main floor.38 The 1,623-seat balcony is so large that it has four aisles running across its width, from east to west. Below it, the mezzanine has 447 seats. And below that, the main floor seats 2,281.39

A view from the balcony. Good Furniture & Decoration magazine.

But the designers said they didn’t cram in as many seats as possible, choosing instead to give audience members more space and comfort. “Better to seat fewer people than to give any patrons discomfort in crowding through aisles or lobbies or exits,” C.W. Rapp wrote. “And yet the Uptown has as many seats as the tremendous Chicago Theatre. It has an acre of seats, and all of them good seats. The number is deceptive to the eye, for each seat seems so close to the stage and screen and orchestra that it seems impossible that there should be approximately 5,000 of them.” (Here, Rapp was exaggerating the Uptown’s actual capacity of 4,381—or had the number of seats been reduced at some point during the project?)

How would so many people get in and out of the Uptown Theatre? Whenever Rapp & Rapp designed theaters for Balaban & Katz, they ensured that the buildings had more than enough exits. “Every house we have erected for them has an excess of exits over and above all requirements,” C.W. Rapp wrote.40 In Rapp’s essay, he didn’t mention Chicago’s Iroquois Theatre, where 600 people died as they struggled to get out during a fire in 1903, but that was surely on his mind as he designed theaters with a goal of preventing similar disasters.

The Uptown Theatre façade near the end of the construction project. Chicago Daily Tribune, August 16, 1925.

Rapp & Rapp and Balaban & Katz designed efficient systems for handling huge crowds. “No B&K ticket holder needed to stand outside in inclement weather,” historian Douglas Gomery wrote. “Numerous ushers serviced the patrons and there was an intricate network of passageways by which four thousand people could enter while four thousand exited—all with relative comfort and speed. The chain developed elaborate plans by which ushers assisted people in and out minimizing time between shows.”41

The 46,000-square-foot42 Uptown Theatre had twice as much “holdout space,” where patrons wait before entering an auditorium, as the Chicago Theatre and 60 percent more than the Tivoli.43

As people entered the theater on Broadway, where the building was 60 feet wide, they walked into a grand lobby, which led back to a large foyer. Together, these two waiting rooms were the length of a city block, stretching 290 feet, all the way to Magnolia Avenue on the building’s west side.

A foyer. Good Furniture & Decoration magazine.

From the foyer, moviegoers walked south into the L-shaped building’s auditorium, which stretched south to Lawrence Avenue. When the show was over, people exited through a third lobby along Lawrence Avenue, or onto Magnolia Avenue.

“The main exit is on Lawrence Avenue and is decorated and treated with splendor as is the lobby,” noted the promotional Balaban & Katz Magazine (which the Compass Rose site very helpfully posted online).44 This system allowed for the movement of nearly 9,000 people in and out of the space within just 15 minutes.45

Tickets were never sold on a reserved basis—the same price would get you a seat anywhere in the theater. This policy was rooted in Abe Balaban’s philosophy that “every man was king.”46 But this did not mean that people could rush into the auditorium willy-nilly to grab their preferred seats. A team of ushers, who were trained at a Balaban & Katz school in “the all-important duties of handling crowds,”47 directed people as they came in.

“If the theatre patrons will follow instructions given them by the ushers no one will be disturbed by newcomers taking seats in front of them,” a group of young engineers reported after taking a tour of the Uptown Theatre. “To work out this system it is sometimes necessary that patrons be directed from one station to another until they have passed as many as twelve ushers before being shown to a seat. Not only can the management predict how many people will enter the theatre at any given minute but they can also tell how many are going to get up and leave. This enables them to fill different sections of the house in order so that no one will be disturbed.”48

Chicago Daily Tribune, July 18, 1925.

In July 1925, Balaban & Katz took out classified ads seeking employees for the new theater. For ushers, the company asked for “Young men, 18 to 22 years, high school or part high school education, neat, refined, pleasing personality.”49 For the doorman, it wanted a man who was “White, elderly, refined, neat, and with pleasing personality.”50 The company sought a retired police officer—”good appearance, pleasing personality, physically fit”51—and a matron who was “white, elderly, capable, experienced.”52 And the theater would also employ “directorettes,” a job with curiously specific physical requirements: “girls over 17; brunette; tall Spanish type.”53

Balaban & Katz was probably wanted girls who looked Spanish because the Uptown Theatre itself was designed to resemble a Spanish Renaissance castle.54 Spanish Colonial Revival architecture was popular at the time, especially in California and Florida, sparked in part by the building designs at the Panama-California Exposition of 1915 in San Diego.55

Another reason for the fad may have been The Mark of Zorro, a hit 1920 movie starring Douglas Fairbanks as the daring swordsman in a black mask and cape.56 The 1920s were the heyday of those Hollywood sex symbols known as “Latin Lovers,”57 typified by Italian actor Rudolph Valentino (whose character in 1922’s Moran of the Lady Letty was Spanish58) and Mexican actor Ramon Novarro.59 While Spanish architecture never became nearly as dominant in Chicago, the trend was visible in a few major structures, including the Uptown Theatre.

“The Spain of bygone years lives in every feature of the Uptown,” Good Furniture & Decoration magazine commented. “Crimson velours stretch upward in panels that are copied from originals in Seville, the giant pillars that rise in deep and heavy carvings are from models in Madrid; even the great and intricate chandeliers that sparkle in the lobbies are copies of Hidalgo craftsmanship.”60

The stairway from the mezzanine to the balcony. Good Furniture & Decoration magazine.

The Uptown’s amenities included a nursery and a children’s play space for families attending shows,61 as well as cosmetic rooms, lounges, and smoking rooms.62 But the most popular feature of Balaban & Katz’s theaters may have been the air conditioning.

The company was the first to offer AC in movie theaters, starting with the Central Park Theatre and the Riviera. Balaban & Katz’s newspaper ads were often festooned with drawings of icicles. Chicago’s health commissioner proclaimed that the air in Balaban & Katz’s theaters was purer than that of Pike’s Peak.63 Chicago physicians sometimes sent convalescent patients to Balaban & Katz’s theaters “for the beneficial effects of the dry pure air that pervades the interiors as on mountaintops.”64

“Throughout the 1920s, motion picture trade papers constantly noted the extraordinary impact air-conditioning seemed to have in generating the large box-office revenues of B&K theatres,” Gomery wrote.65

Barney Balaban said the mechanics of movie theaters had gone through a revolution over the previous decade, including improvements in ventilation, air washing, and air refrigeration. While the Tivoli and the Chicago Theatre weren’t designed for overhead ventilation, the Uptown Theatre was. “The underground system of cooling, involving the introduction of cold air through the floor of theatres, has not proved practicable,” Balaban said. “The overhead system now being installed in new houses is more satisfactory.”66

According to the Balaban & Katz Magazine special issue promoting the Uptown Theatre, “The largest and most complete freezing and air-washing plant in the world is in use deep down under the theatre.”67

“Do you know of anything more wonderful or marvelous than the system of air cooling in the Uptown Theatre?” asked an advertisement for Chicago’s Brunswick-Kroeschell Company, which supplied air conditioning equipment to Balaban & Katz. “Isn’t it great to be able to attend this theatre and be perfectly cool and comfortable throughout the entire performance no matter how sticky and hot it may be outside? The air in this theatre is as pure, healthful and refreshing as the mountain breeze.

“The Brunswick-Kroeschell ice machines that cool the air in this theatre have a capacity equal to the melting of 365 tons of ice per day. Figure it out on the basis of what you are paying for ice at so much per hundred and you will be astonished when you realize what progressive theatre owners, like Balaban & Katz, are spending to make the patrons of their theatres comfortable.”68

But as costly as it was to provide AC, Barney Balaban saw it as a source of revenue. “Air washing and refrigeration enables houses to be operated at a profit in the summertime,” he said.69

An ad for the Uptown Theatre from the August 17, 1925, Chicago Daily Tribune:

On the night of Saturday, August 15, the building’s signs were turned on, including a billboard-like structure on the roof announcing “UPTOWN THEATRE,” as well as the word “UPTOWN” spelled out vertically along Broadway. More lights illuminated the contours of the castle’s façade, which had pinnacled towers rising up 104 feet.70 “Hundreds of thousands of incandescent lamps … were switched on simultaneously for the first time last night,” the Tribune reported. “The radiance of the huge electric signs on the theater … was reported to be visible over most of the north side.”71

Light magazine ran this picture of the Uptown Theatre lobby, with an illustration of a couple gazing at a castle in the distance.

The Chicago Daily News reported that interior decorators put their final touches on the theater at midnight that Sunday.72 But their work was far from complete as the week began. “The great lobby was cluttered with debris,” wrote Harold H. Green, who stopped inside at 10 a.m. on Monday, August 17, when the Uptown Theatre was getting ready to host an evening “dress rehearsal” preview show for invited guests, the night before it would open to the public.

“There were no rugs at all,” Green continued. “Many of the seats were still missing, lamp sockets were empty, many of the stage settings were in the orchestra circle, and hundreds of men were running wildly about, apparently seeing how much dust they could kick up.”

The 28-year-old Green was visiting from Cleveland, where he worked as the advertising manager of the General Electric Company’s National Lamp Works. Green, who was reporting on the Uptown Theatre’s opening for his company’s magazine, Light, couldn’t believe it would be ready for that evening’s show. But he saw Barney Balaban “chatting and smiling and looking as fresh and pink as though he had risen from a long night’s sleep to enjoy a peaceful holiday.” Balaban assured him that everything would be ready in time.

As Green wandered around the theater, he found an electrician who’d been knocked out by a falling bolt. And before Green went to lunch, he noted: “In the balcony a squad of young men in shirt sleeves were lined up like West Point cadets on parade. They were ushers, getting their instructions.”73

The Central Uptown Chicago Association’s six days of free festivities were beginning, including bands playing music on street corners.74 Mayor William E. Dever had signed a proclamation declaring that this was “Uptown Chicago Week.” 75

Mayor William E. Dever signs a proclamation declaring April 17 to 22, 1925, as Uptown Chicago Week. Standing behind him are, from left to right, Victor J. Curto, alderman Francis L. Boutell, John Bowers, J.R.S. Crowder, and Harold Dix. Balaban & Katz Magazine, via Compass Rose.

But curiously, it was an out-of-town politician who presided over the festival: James C. Dahlman, the “cowboy mayor” of Omaha, who was visiting Chicago for a rodeo, pushed an electric buzzer at 3 p.m. Monday, launching the “Pageant Supreme.”76

Omaha mayor James Dahlman. World-Herald photo.

Wearing his trademark 10-gallon hat and riding a horse supplied by the Chicago police, Dahlman was the Uptown pageant’s marshal—and the neighborhood’s business association unanimously elected him as “honorary mayor for life of Central Uptown Chicago.”77

Balaban & Katz invited city officials, VIPs, and journalists to Monday night’s preview event, as well as the workers who’d toiled on the building, who were encouraged to bring along their wives and families as guests.78 A Variety reporter attending the event observed that the theater was far from finished: “Many of the staircases were uncarpeted and without banisters. The box office had no windows or other equipment installed; the men’s lounge on the main floor was not opened, and there were ladders and tools scattered about in all sorts of corners. Workmen in overalls were numerously present.”79

But Harold Green, who’d witnessed disarray that morning, was astonished by how much the Uptown Theatre had been transformed in half a day. At 7:30 p.m., he walked up Broadway with his family. “As we approached Lawrence, things took on a festive air,” he recalled. “… Strings of colored lights stretched across the streets, lamp posts were gaily trimmed and flags waved everywhere. The number of people on the streets reminded one of an election night before prohibition.”

Green was stunned by the sight of the Uptown Theatre’s massive white letters illuminated against the dark sky. “The beautiful white front of the building was outlined in light, and under the marquee the brightness would have shamed the sun,” he wrote. “The impossible had happened, and the Uptown was opening on schedule.” (The photo at the top of this chapter appeared in Light magazine with Green’s article.)

Green was even more astounded by what he saw as he walked through the theater’s entrance. “Do you think you could describe the beauty of a rose to one who had never seen a rose?” he wrote. “I feel as lost now in attempting to describe this vision from old Spain.”80

An article in the Balaban & Katz Magazine described the experience of walking into the Uptown Theatre: “Entering it you pass into another world. The streets, the clangor of iron on cement, the harsh outlines of the steel thickets we call the city, all disappear. Your spirit rises and soars along the climbing pillars that ascend six stories to the dome ceiling of the colossal lobby.”81

Every nook and cranny of the building—even the bathrooms—had decorative elements that caught the eye: hand-carved Travertine marble, colored glass windows, gigantic mural paintings, bronze chandeliers, spires and minarets, French bronze clocks, Spanish oil jars, tapestries and jeweled ornaments from France and Italy, cupids, gargoyles, griffins, and the heads of cupids, laughing gods, and jolly demons that “grimace in friendly humor.” The Balaban & Katz Magazine promised: “In all the house, stand where you will, your eye can rest on nothing but beauty.”82

Why did Balaban & Katz think it was worth investing so much money and effort in such lavish decoration? A company representative said it was a way of creating intimacy in a building of such colossal size: “It must have the skill of decorators to give a sense of closeness and warmth to the auditorium. For no matter how scientifically this acre of seats may be placed, the holders will feel lost unless there is an over tone of comfort, ease and intimacy about the entire interior.” 83

In a sense, all of that decor was a marketing strategy. It gave people another incentive to pay for a movie ticket. “The movie-going public, with upper-middle class aspirations, delighted in these regally outfitted imitations of the grandest Old World halls and palaces,” Gomery wrote.84 Decades later, Studs Terkel recalled stepping inside Balaban & Katz theaters when he was a child in Chicago in the 1920s. “I remember … being so overwhelmed by the flamboyance of it,” he said.85

But Balaban & Katz also argued that they were elevating American culture—not just showcasing the art of movies and music, but also shaping the way people behaved. “And then there is the psychological side,” the company’s representative said. “A moving picture theatre necessarily caters to a huge variety of people—people who know how to conduct themselves in public and others who do not. Entering a magnificent theater such as this almost anybody will be upon his good behavior. He will comport himself with propriety and in full consideration of his neighbor’s rights.

“Majestic architecture and rich furnishings have a refining effect no matter where they may be employed. Go into a wonderful church or cathedral and immediately you become reverent regardless of the presence or absence of religious feeling. The architecture—the interior decorating scheme, if you want to put it that way—influences and awes you. The same thing of course works out in properly furnished homes. We went considerably farther than the conventional in the building and decorating of this theatre. But we feel our philosophy is correct.”86

Not surprisingly, when Harold Green was inside the Uptown Theatre, he paid particular attention to the effects produced by the building’s 17,000 electric light bulbs.87 He was, after all, a writer for a lamp industry publication. “Light! Yes, here I am dwelling on it as I tell you of the Uptown Theatre,” Green wrote. “Yet that is natural, for light is as much a part of this theatre as the very walls that surround it. Light! They use so much of it here that they need the largest stage switchboard in the world, and just one of their attraction signs takes more current than two entire drama theatres in the Chicago loop.”

In the auditorium, Green noted how the lighting made the walls look rosy pink. It was, he said, “the kind of light that gives real pleasure with its translucent glow, a light that penetrates but does not dazzle.” Up above, lights hidden in “unseen coves” shone out onto the auditorium’s ceiling, “giving it the appearance of a pearl-coated shell.” Other lights were fitted snugly into the sides of seats along the aisles, casting a soft diffused glow into these walkways. As a result, Green said, “There is no groping blindly down the aisle to end up in the lap of an indignant stranger.”88

The Uptown Theatre opened to the public at noon on Tuesday, August 18. That wasn’t the most convenient time for Chicagoans who worked during the day, but advertisements encouraged people to “cancel all engagements” so they could be there when the Uptown opened its doors to “an amazed world.”89

The Tribune documented the festivities in this photo:


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Vintage Tribune (@vintagetribune)

On that Tuesday alone, 200,000 people attended the neighborhood festival, filling Broadway and the surrounding streets, according to the Daily News. A total of nearly 30,000 people attended shows inside the theater on that opening day.90

Chicago Daily Tribune, August 19, 1925.

“All Chicago Stormed the Uptown Theatre,” a Balaban & Katz ad proclaimed. “Its opening was the most gigantic thing since Armistice Day—from North Side, South Side, West Side, and far, far up the North Shore, they came and couldn’t believe their eyes.”91

The feature attraction was The Lady Who Lied, a movie starring Lewis Stone in a story involving star-crossed romance, alcoholism, a safari, a poisonous snake, and caravan-raiding bandits.92 “The throngs paid more attention to the theater than to the picture,” the Daily News observed.93 “It’s a rather long picture,” Tribune critic Mae Tinée commented. “… Rather TOO long, for there are spaces where it drags interminably. However, graced by good acting and photography, you won’t mind it at all and chances are may like it quite a little.”94

Juan Carlos Cobián

The movie wasn’t the whole show—like Balaban & Katz’s other theaters, the Uptown presented an array of entertainment. Befitting its Spanish architectural flourishes, the grand opening included a performance “flashing with gypsies, habanera dancers, beauties and haughty grandees out of Spain’s colorful past.”95

Titled “Under Spanish Skies,” this portion of the show featured tenor Don Jose Mojica, soprano Marie Herron, dancer Maria Montero, and Argentine bandleader and tango composer Juan Carlos Cobián. The theater also presented a newsreel and actors performing comedy sketches, along with jazzy music by the Edgewater Beach Hotel’s Oriole Orchestra. And the Uptown Theatre Orchestra, conducted by Nathaniel Finston, played Tchaikovsky’s “Capriccio Italien” overture.96

Those musicians sat in an orchestra pit that was touted as “revolutionary.” Unlike the pits at the Tivoli and Chicago Theatres, the Uptown’s “disappearing stage” could move up and down.97 “The orchestra pit holds 60 musicians and is on an immense elevator platform, permitting the entire body of musicians to be raised or lowered as the program demands,” B&K’s magazine said.98

“The orchestra lift had 18 feet of travel from basement level to stage level,” the Uptown Theatre’s longtime caretaker, David Syfczak, told me. “A separate conductor’s lift was centered in platform so the conductor could rise from the depths followed by the orchestra. A musicians’ lounge was located under the stage.”99

The Uptown Theatre also had a deeper stage than the other theaters, with 36 feet of working space behind the movie screen, “giving room for the staging of the most gigantic spectacles.”100 A.J. Mayger, an architect who worked with Rapp & Rapp on the project, explained: “A deeper stage, as in the Uptown Theatre, permits greater flexibility of performance, and is necessary in order to have presentations along with pictures.”101 The stage was only one inch wider than the Chicago Theatre’s 70-foot-wide stage—an inch that made it possible for Balaban & Katz to hype the Uptown as Chicago’s widest stage.102

Tuesday’s grand opening also featured Jesse Crawford playing the Uptown’s Wurlitzer organ,103 an instrument that was crucially important during that era of silent movies. This one was said to be the most expensive Wurlitzer organ ever built at the time. “Its console will raise and lower on elevators,” B&K’s magazine said. “10,000 pipes ranging in size from the smokestack of an ocean-going liner to a lead-pencil are hidden behind the walls on either side of the proscenium arch. These pipes are made to sound by a highly intricate system of electrical contacts between the organ lofts and the console which the organist plays. This organ is capable of reproducing a symphony orchestra, a military band, a jazz band, a cathedral organ, a choir of feminine or masculine voices, effects of the sublimest beauty or most humorous imitation of the animal kingdom, novelties without limit.”104

Not everything went smoothly on opening day. WEBH, the Edgewater Beach Hotel’s radio station, planned to air a live broadcast from the Uptown Theatre, using a special backstage radio room, installed at a cost of $65,000.105 But the station experienced technical difficulties, resulting in more than an hour of dead air.106

An artist’s depiction of the Uptown Theatre in an ad for Marshall Field & Co., which supplied some of the theater’s furnishings. Chicago Daily Tribune, August 19, 1925.

Afterward, the Chicago Evening Post’s H. Duncan Campbell called the Uptown Theatre “the last word in cinema gorgeousness—a magnificent new shrine to the silent drama.” A Chicago Evening American editorial praised Balaban & Katz for building “an enduring monument to a magnificent faith in Chicago’s future and in the finer instincts of its people.”107

“It is a monument to the North Side and a gold feather in the caps of the B. & K. organisation,” Variety said. “The appearance of the house will undoubtedly draw all the picture fans from the North Side, and will even steal some from other sections of the city. It is well worth the trip to look over the furnishings and architecture of the theatre.”108 And in suburban Arlington Heights, the Cook County Herald commented: “The magnificence of this wonder structure will grow upon the visitors. There is too much for the mind to grasp in a single visit.”109

As three-quarters of a million people flocked to Uptown that week, many visitors capped off their evenings by dancing, dining, and drinking at Rainbo Gardens over at Clark Street and Lawrence Avenue.110 And the festivities wrapped up on Friday with a “celebrities ball” at another Uptown hot spot, Paddy Harmon’s Arcadia Hall on Broadway near Montrose Avenue, where “movie, radio, stage and baseball stars” appeared among the celebrants.111 Attendees included the Duncan Sisters, the vaudeville duo famous for Topsy and Eva, a musical comedy inspired by Uncle Tom’s Cabin that featured one of the sisters in blackface.112 The Chicago White Sox’s player-manager Eddie Collins was also present, along with a dozen of his team’s players.113

Newspaper reports about the festival don’t mention the Montmartre Cafe, formerly known as Green Mill Gardens, but this legendary entertainment venue was practically next door to the Uptown Theatre, so it surely must have had big audiences that week.

The hoopla boosted business at Uptown’s shops. As one report noted, the new theater was “situated in the midst of millinery, ready-to-wear and shoe shops, as well as a good sprinkling of men’s shops.” All of these merchants reported that “trade was greatly stimulated” by the festival.114 The Balaban & Katz Magazine had featured advertisements from nearby businesses hoping to pull in parade-watchers and moviegoers.

Of course, there was a full-page ad for Loren Miller & Co., the department store whose owner had done as much as anyone to spur business growth in the Uptown Square District. Miller had even coined the “Uptown” name, which was now shining in lights on the giant movie theater a block north of his store.

Other advertisers included New Moon Garden, at 1024 West Wilson Avenue, which called itself the “Northside’s Most Unique Chinese and American Restaurant,” with music by Dan Russo and Ted Fio Rito’s Blue Bird Orchestra. (Perhaps that was another moniker for the Oriole Orchestra, as Fio Rito and Russo’s group was usually called.)

The Wilson Avenue Ontra Cafeteria, on Wilson just west of Sheridan Road, was a “huge cafeteria with the air of a smart cafe,” serving “Miss Dutton’s memorable dinners.”

Balaban & Katz Magazine, via Compass Rose.

The Alamo restaurant, 831 Wilson West Avenue, touted its own air conditioning: “You can enjoy dancing and dining here in the hottest weather, the air is bracing and invigorating.” The ad also proclaimed: “Get a new thrill! Dance on glass.”

Yankee Doodle Doo, 4731–33 North Broadway, was a “New England tavern” serving “good old-fashioned meals,” including ham, salt fish, fish chowder, and a $1 dinner of smothered chicken and waffles.

Herman’s Restaurant, located at 4803 North Broadway, across the street from the Uptown Theatre, simply described itself as “A Good Place to Eat.”

Wolf’s Jewel Shop Inc. at 4802 North Broadway—which occupied the space where the front area of the Green Mill jazz club is now located—was selling a white gold ring with a blue white diamond for a special price of $75, promoting it as an “Unusual Value!” Offering “CREDIT AT CASH PRICES,” the shop sold diamonds, watches, and jewelry “ON CREDIT TERMS TO SUIT YOUR CONVENIENCE” with “No Interest Charge!” The shop’s ad also noted: “A Complete selection of standard make watches. You can take your choice, and pay as little as $1.00 a week.”

Located in the same building, the Birdie Bauer Hat Shop announced it had just opened at 4810 North Broadway, exclusively offering handmade hats.

Down the street at 4736 North Racine Avenue, the Riviera Music Shop, offered deals on Victrolas. It was one of several businesses in the neighborhood using the “Riviera” name.

Meek & Meek men’s stores were selling “Society Brand Clothes,” Stetson hats, and Selz shoes at two Uptown shops, with a third one opening soon inside the new Sheridan Trust and Savings Bank building—where the bank was urging people to get safety deposit boxes. That new bank building also housed one of Uptown’s three Martha Washington Candies shops. And the neighborhood had two Canevin’s Candies shops, billed as “The Sweetest Place in the Uptown District.”115

Another candy store—Fanny May’s 28th location—would open that November116 in a new two-story, 25-foot-wide building sandwiched between the Green Mill Gardens structure and the Uptown Theatre. Designed by Rapp & Rapp, this small terra cotta structure at 4812 North Broadway overlapped with the 10-foot-wide space where the Green Mill building’s north end had been sliced off during the Uptown Theatre’s construction. (In recent years, it was occupied by Shake Rattle & Read, and then the Provisions Uptown liquor store, which recently closed.)

Rapp & Rapp also designed a new terra cotta façade for the two-decade-old building just north of the Uptown Theatre, the North Shore Fireproof Storage Building at 4818 North Broadway, giving it a new look that complemented the theater.117

During its first six days of operation, the Uptown Theatre had more than $37,000 in box office receipts (roughly $650,000 in today’s money), Variety reported. The Uptown seemed to be hurting attendance at theaters in the Loop, although people were still waiting in long lines to see Charlie Chaplin in The Gold Rush at downtown’s Orpheum.118

Balaban & Katz vowed to show only the best movies available. The company’s experts were “viewing and reviewing the motion pictures that the studios send forth, choosing some, discarding others, hunting for those best suited to the enormous army of Chicagoans who depend upon Balaban & Katz for their entertainment.”119

Meanwhile, Balaban & Katz had signed a deal turning over the Riviera Theatre’s operations to the Orpheum Circuit, with B&K taking a share of profits.120 The Balaban & Katz Magazine insisted that the Riviera “is not to be overshadowed by the Uptown,” explaining: “It will house vaudeville of the very best kind, the very acts that are shown at the Palace Theatre in the loop will move out to it and the best motion pictures will be shown there, too. The Uptown is to show different kind of programs. The two houses won’t conflict.”121 But it was soon reported that the Uptown was taking business away from the Riviera.122

As the Uptown opened, three groups of musicians and entertainers began rotating around Balaban & Katz’s big theaters in the city: the Chicago, the Tivoli, and the Uptown.123 “Fresh ideas, fresh talent, fresh originality will be supplied each week by this method,” the Balaban & Katz Magazine said. In any given week, the audience at one of these theaters might see an orchestra conducted by Nathaniel Finston, Leopold Spitalny, or Adolph Dumont. And they would hear Jesse Crawford, Milton Charles, or Albert Hay Malotte playing the organ. “All of these artists have huge personal followings in the theatres where they have been playing,” B&K’s magazine said.124

When the Uptown Theatre opened in 1925, C.W. Rapp said it was the “crowning glory” of the movie palaces Balaban & Katz had built. In saying this, he was also suggesting that the Uptown was one of Rapp & Rapp’s greatest achievements. Rapp held out the possibility that Balaban & Katz might top themselves yet again. “What they do in the future may uncover further progress,” he wrote. “That remains to be seen.”125

Rapp & Rapp soon designed another marvelous movie palace for Balaban & Katz, the Oriental Theatre, which opened in May 1926 at 24 West Randolph Street in the Loop. As the name suggests, the Rapp brothers and their designers looked this time to the East for exotic elements rather than evoking the elegance of old Europe. The building’s “hasheesh-dream décor” heavily drew on India for its inspiration, with elephant-throne chairs, Hindu gods, and Buddhas. “No maharaja ever saw anything like the Oriental,” the Daily News marveled.126

C.W. Rapp did not live long enough to any further progress by Balaban & Katz, or to design any more movie palaces for the company. He died of a stroke on June 28, 1926, leaving his younger brother George to carry on the Rapp & Rapp firm.127

The age of giant movie theaters would soon die as well. “There is a limit to increased size of theatres,” Ernest Lieberman, the structural engineer who’d worked on the Uptown Theatre, said in 1926. “… The increase in size of houses during the last 15 or 20 years does not mean that this increase will continue indefinitely.” And of course, it didn’t.128

The Uptown remained the world’s largest theater until March 11, 1927, when the 5,920-seat Roxy Theatre opened in New York City.129 The Roxy would be eclipsed in 1932 by the 5,960-seat Radio City Music Hall, also in New York City,130 which still calls itself the world’s largest indoor theater.131 By the mid-1930s, the size of new movie theaters began shrinking.132 The 1,150-seat Astor in Melbourne, Australia, which opened in 1936, is now the world’s largest single-screen theater used strictly for showing movies (although it’s only about one-fourth the size of the Uptown). Built in 1998, the 25-screen Ciudad de la Imagen in Madrid is the biggest multiplex, with a total of 9,200 seats.133

In a Film Comment article, writer Elliott Stein pointed to Chicago as the city where movie palaces had flourished in the 1920s “on a scale unsurpassed in any city in the world.”134 And the Uptown Theatre was one of that golden age’s shining pinnacles.

Balaban & Katz Magazine, via Compass Rose.

A headline in the Balaban & Katz Magazine had declared that the Uptown Theatre was “Not for Today—But for All Time.” As C.W. Rapp explained, “The outstanding fact about our association with Balaban & Katz has been their one great desire to build for all time. In all our conversations about theatres, our long hours of planning, that idea has dominated. Balaban & Katz theatres are put up to last forever.”135

Balaban & Katz may have been sincere in their statements about constructing sturdy theaters that would last forever. But they also tried to reduce their taxes by arguing that their movie palaces actually depreciated faster than other buildings. As they explained, theaters became outdated after a short lifespan.

“I would say that six to seven years has been the average life of motion picture theatres in Chicago up to the present time,” Barney Balaban testified in 1926.136 Among other things, Balaban predicted that 3D movies might soon become popular, making cinemas like the Uptown obsolete. “There is now being developed a third dimension picture,” he said. “If it is a success, as I believe it will be, it cannot be shown in any of the theatres that have been completed, either in the Chicago or in the Tivoli, or any other theatre building in the City of Chicago.”137

U.S. tax officials and an appellate court disagreed with the company’s arguments, increasing Balaban & Katz’s tax bill by refusing to accept the higher depreciation strategy.138

Regardless of whether they could stand forever, many of Chicago’s old movie theaters were eventually demolished, including the Tivoli, which was torn down in 1963. But plans to demolish the Chicago Theatre in 1982 were thwarted, and it was revived as a venue for concerts. The Oriental also survived; it’s now a Broadway in Chicago venue called the Nederlander.

By the 1970s, Uptown Theatre was a rock concert venue, hosting shows by the Grateful Dead, Bob Marley, and Bruce Springsteen, among many others. But it shut down after the J. Geils Band played on December 19, 1981,139 and it has been closed to the public ever since.

A 2023 view of the Uptown Theatre from the corner of Lawrence and Magnolia Avenues. Photo by Robert Loerzel.

A view of the Uptown Theatre’s north wall. Photo by Robert Loerzel.

Plans have been in the works for years to bring it back to life. I don’t have any inside scoop about the future of those plans, but it’s clear that it would take tens of millions of dollars to fix up the theater, which was designated as a Chicago Landmark in 1991.140

“The Uptown still has the largest seating capacity of any theater in Chicago, more than the Auditorium, Civic Opera House, the Oriental or the Chicago Theater,” the Commission on Chicago Landmarks noted in 2016.141

While the Uptown Theatre has suffered damage and decay during the decades it has been shuttered, photos from recent years reveal that the interior retains much of its original majesty. See José M. Osorio’s photos for the Chicago Tribune and Eric Holubow’s photos for the Chicago Architecture Foundation, also posted on his Instagram page:


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Eric Holubow (@eholubow)

For a tour of the building’s interior, watch John Pappas and Michael Bisberg’s 2006 documentary Uptown: Portrait of a Palace. The cameras go inside the theater 14 minutes and 30 seconds into the film, which is posted on Vimeo:

When that documentary was made, some of the Uptown Theatre’s supporters said it the “eleventh hour” of efforts to save and reopen it. But nearly two decades have gone by since then, leaving many people wondering if the Uptown will ever reopen. I try to stay hopeful. It could happen. As the Uptown’s caretaker, David Syfczak, said in that 2006 documentary: “It’s very special. It’s one of a kind, and if you lose it, it’s gone forever.”

As the Uptown Theatre’s 100th anniversary in 2025 draws closer, the mammoth old building sits silent, a huge and hulking structure with a palace of dreams hidden inside.



1 Advertisements, Chicago Daily Tribune, August 11, 1925, 18; August 12, 1925, 26; August 17, 1925, 10, 22; August 18, 1925, 5.

2 Commission on Chicago Landmarks, Landmark Designation Report: Uptown Square District, October 6, 2016,–uptown-square-district0.html, 22.

3 Advertisement, Chicago Daily News, August 24, 1925, 22.

4 “House Reviews: Uptown,” Variety, August 26, 1925, 28,

5 “Hail New Buildings for Uptown Carnival,” Chicago Daily News, August 18, 1925, 3.

6 Advertisements, Balaban & Katz Magazine, August 17, 1925,

7 “Sheridan Trust and Savings Bank Building,” Wikipedia, accessed December 23, 2023,

8 “Chicago,” Variety, August 26, 1925, 12,

9 “New Theatre Boosts Trade,” Chicago Merchant-Economist and Dry Goods Reporter, October 24, 1925, 44,

10 “Red Fire in Uptown To-Night,” Chicago Daily News, August 20, 1925, 7.

11 “Hail New Buildings for Uptown Carnival,” Chicago Daily News, August 18, 1925, 3; “100,000 to See Uptown District Pageant Today,” Chicago Daily Tribune, August 17, 1925, 16.

12 Al Chase, “Gigantic Movie to Take Place of Green Mill,” Chicago Daily Tribune, May 20, 1923, part 9, 30.

13 Document 7972230, Book 19075, 87, warranty deed (grantors Tom and Helene T. Chamales, and Otto L. and Beatrice Annoreno; grantees Barney Balaban, Sam Katz, and Herbert L. Stern), May 25, 1923, recorded June 9, 1923, Cook County Clerk’s Office, Recordings Division.

14 Al Chase, “Gigantic Movie to Take Place of Green Mill.”

15 Catherine Hoffman, Charles E. Hoffman, and their solicitors, Hutson & Traeger, answer to the bill of complaint, June 28, 1929, 10, Tom Chamales v. Catherine Hoffman et al, Circuit Court Case B180140C, 1929, Clerk of the Cook County Circuit Court Archives.

16 “Various Real Estate Matters,” Economist, February 1, 1919, 214.

17 “RKO Warner Twin Theatre,” Cinema Treasures,; “Rivoli Theatre,” Cinema Treasures,; “The Riviera Theatre History,” Jam Productions,, all accessed June 21, 2023; “New Riviera, Chicago, Opens,” Variety, October 11, 1918, 47,

18 “New Riviera, Chicago, Opens,” Variety, October 11, 1918,  47,

19 Advertisement, Chicago Daily Tribune, October 2, 1918, 15.

20 William R. Weaver, “Movie of a Movie,” Chicagoan, January 1932, 46,

21 “Tivoli Theatre,” Cinema Treasures, accessed December 26, 2023,; “Chicago Theatre,” Cinema Treasures, accessed December 26, 2023,; Charles Ward Rapp, Rapp & Rapp: Architects (n.p.: Viburnum, 2014), 33–34; United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, No. 4038, Balaban & Katz Corporation v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue (Chicago: U.S. government, 1928),, 11.

22 C.L. (sic) Rapp, “Not for Today—But for All Time,” Balaban & Katz Magazine, August 17, 1925,, 5.

23 Weaver, “Movie of a Movie.”

24 Commission on Chicago Landmarks, 21.

25 Erik Lundegaard, “Box Office Stat of the Day: Average Weekly Movie Attendance for the Last 100 Years,” March 12, 2010,; Cited Source: Alex Ben Block, ed., George Lucas’s Blockbusting: A Decade-by-Decade Survey of Timeless Movies Including Untold Secrets of Their Financial and Cultural Success (2010). “Domestic Movie Theatrical Market Summary 1995 to 2023,” The Numbers, accessed June 21, 2023,

26 Balaban & Katz v. Internal Revenue, 11.

27 Balaban & Katz v. Internal Revenue, 18.

28 1923 Chicago city directory, 869,

29 Danny Tag, “State-Lake Theater, Home of ABC 7 Chicago, Celebrates 100 Years,” March 15, 2019,

30 Rapp, Rapp & Rapp, 38.

31 Al Chase, “Start Work on City’s Biggest Movie Tomorrow,” Chicago Daily Tribune, February 3, 1924, part 9, 23.

32 Chicago Building Permit Ledgers Reel UID CBPC_LB_24 page 151–152 (page 288 in original ledger).

33 “Facts About the Uptown Theatre,” Balaban & Katz Magazine, August 17, 1925,, 6.

34 Rapp, “Not for Today—But for All Time.”

35 Rapp, Rapp & Rapp, 40–41.

36 “The Marvel of Cantilever Balcony Engineering,” Theatre Historical Society of America, March 4, 2017,

37 “Tests Prove Super-Safety of the Uptown,” Balaban & Katz Magazine, August 17, 1925,, 17.

38 “Facts About the Uptown Theatre,” Balaban & Katz Magazine, August 17, 1925,, 6.

39 Commission on Chicago Landmarks, 21.

40 Rapp, “Not for Today—But for All Time.”

41 Douglas Gomery, “Film and Business History: The Development of an American Mass Entertainment Industry,” Journal of Contemporary History 19, no. 1 (1984), 93,

42 “Facts About the Uptown Theatre.”

43 Balaban & Katz v. Internal Revenue, 9.

44 “Facts About the Uptown Theatre.”

45 Commission on Chicago Landmarks, 21.

46 Rapp, Rapp & Rapp, 38.

47 “A Mighty Link in a Mighty Chain,” Balaban & Katz Magazine, August 17, 1925,, 15.

48 “Junior Engineers Explore Uptown Theatre,” Journal of the Western Society of Engineers 32, no. 10 (November 1927), 176,

49 Advertisement, Chicago Daily Tribune, July 11, 1925, 17.

50 Advertisement, Chicago Daily Tribune, July 11, 1925, 17.

51 Advertisement, Chicago Daily Tribune, July 19, 1925, part 9, 5.

52 Advertisement, Chicago Daily Tribune, July 18, 1925, 18.

53 Advertisement, Chicago Daily Tribune, July 18, 1925, 18.

54 “Facts About the Uptown Theatre.”

55 “Spanish Colonial Revival Architecture,” Wikipedia, accessed May 2, 2024,

56 Merry Ovnick, “The Mark of Zorro: Silent Film’s Impact on 1920s Architecture in Los Angeles,” California History 86, no. 1 (2008), 28–59, 61–64,, at 28; Leon Whiteson, “‘20s Spanish Style Needs No Revival,” Los Angeles Times, March 5, 1989,

57 “Latin Lover,” Wikipedia, accessed May 3, 2024,

58 “Rudolph Valentino,” Wikipedia, accessed May 3, 2024,

59 “Ramon Novarro,” Wikipedia, May 3, 2024,

60 “Great Central Market,” Good Furniture & Decoration, January 1926, 52,

61 “New North Side Theater Completed,” Chicago Daily Tribune, August 16, 1925, 22.

62 “Facts About the Uptown Theatre.”

63 “Balaban & Katz,” Chicagology,

64 “A Mighty Link in a Mighty Chain.”

65 Gomery, “Film and Business History,” 93.

66 Balaban & Katz v. Internal Revenue, 8–9.

67 “Facts About the Uptown Theatre.”

68 Advertisement, Balaban & Katz Magazine, August 17, 1925,, 29.

69 Balaban & Katz v. Internal Revenue, 8.

70 “Facts About the Uptown Theatre.”

71 “New North Side Theater Completed,” Chicago Daily Tribune, August 16, 1925, 22.

72 “Cowboy Mayor Opens Uptown Celebration,” Chicago Daily News, August 17, 1925, 5.

73 Green’s narrative matches the events of August 17, though he calls it the theater’s opening day, which could refer to August 18. H.H. Green, “Come Uptown,” Light, November 1925, 8–9,; “National Lamp Works Holds Premiere of First All-Color, All-Talking Motion Picture for Industry Use,” American Cinematographer, February 1931, 28,; 1930 U.S. Census, Ohio, Cuyahoga, Cleveland Heights, enumeration district 0559, sheet 4B,

74 “In the Movie World,” Chicago Daily News, August 1, 1925, 31.

75 “Mayor Dever Welcomes the Uptown Theatre,” Balaban & Katz Magazine, August 17, 1925,, 11.

76 “Cowboy Mayor Opens Uptown Celebration,” Chicago Daily News, August 17, 1925, 5.

77 “Fete Omaha’s Mayor Here,” Chicago Daily News, August 12, 1925, 37.

78 “Cowboy Mayor Opens Uptown Celebration,” Chicago Daily News, August 17, 1925, 5; “National Lamp Works Holds Premiere of First All-Color, All-Talking Motion Picture for Industry Use,” American Cinematographer, February 1931, 28,; 1930 U.S. Census, Ohio, Cuyahoga, Cleveland Heights, enumeration district 0559, sheet 4B,

79 “House Reviews: Uptown.”

80 Green, “Come Uptown,” 9.

81 “A Palace of Enchantment,” Balaban & Katz Magazine, August 17, 1925,, 1.

82 “Hail New Buildings for Uptown Carnival,” Chicago Daily News, August 18, 1925, 3; “Facts About the Uptown Theatre”; “Great Central Market,” 52; “A Palace of Enchantment,” 24.

83 “Great Central Market,” 51–52.

84 Gomery, “Film and Business History,” 92.

85“Andy Karzas Discusses Aragon Ballroom,” Studs Terkel Radio Archive, broadcast August 2, 1963,

86 “Great Central Market,” 51–52.

87 “Facts About the Uptown Theatre.”

88 Green, “Come Uptown,” 9–10.

89 Advertisement, Chicago Daily Tribune, August 17, 1925, 10.

90 “New Uptown Theater Is Pageant Feature,” Chicago Daily News, August 18, 1925, 4.

91 Advertisement, Chicago Daily Tribune, August 19, 1925, 22.

92 “The Lady Who Lied,”, accessed December, 28, 2023,

93 “New Uptown Theater Is Pageant Feature.”

94 Mae Tinée, “Balaban & Katz’ New Theater Is Uptown Mecca,” Chicago Daily Tribune, August 19, 1925, 21.

95 Advertisement, Chicago Daily Tribune, August 16, 1925, part 7, 4.

96 Gala Inaugural Program, Balaban & Katz Magazine, August 17, 1925,, 2; “Juan Carlos Cobián,” Wikipedia, accessed December 21, 2023,

97 “New North Side Theater Completed,” Chicago Daily Tribune, August 16, 1925, 22.

98 “Facts About the Uptown Theatre.”

99 David Syfczak, email to author, June 16, 2024.

100 “Facts About the Uptown Theatre.”

101 Balaban & Katz v. Internal Revenue, 16.

102 Syfczak email.

103 Gala Inaugural Program; “Juan Carlos Cobián,” Wikipedia, accessed December 21, 2023,

104 “Facts About the Uptown Theatre.”

105 “Super-Scientific Radio Station for B. & K. Big Uptown Theater,” Cook County Herald, July 31, 1925, 14; “A Palace of Enchantment.”

106 Elmer Douglass, “Elmer Dislikes Classic Used as Sandwich,” Chicago Daily Tribune, August 19, 1925, 10.

107 Advertisement, Chicago Daily News, August 24, 1925, 22.

108 “House Reviews: Uptown.”

109 “Uptown Theater Dazzles Throngs,” Cook County Herald, August 28, 1925, 9.

110 “Where the Funseekers Go,” Chicago Daily News, August 22, 1925, 30.

111 Advertisement, Chicago Daily Tribune, August 22, 1925, 15.

112 “Duncan Sisters,” Wikipedia, accessed December 29, 2023,

113 “Dancing Crowds Officially End Uptown Pageant,” Chicago Daily Tribune, August 23, 1925, 20.

114 “New Theatre Boosts Trade,” Chicago Merchant-Economist and Dry Goods Reporter, October 24, 1925, 44,

115 Advertisements, Balaban & Katz Magazine, August 17, 1925,

116 Advertisement, Chicago Daily Tribune, November 20, 1925, 2.

117 Commission on Chicago Landmarks, 43, 50.

118 “Plays ‘Gold Rush’ Until 2 a.m. New Uptown Opens to $37,000,” August 26, 1925, Variety, 24,

119 “A Mighty Link in a Mighty Chain.”

120 “Chicago Stock Transactions,” Chicago Daily Tribune, August 4, 1925, 26.

121 “Plaudits and Plaints from Our Patrons,” Balaban & Katz Magazine, August 17, 1925,, no page number.

122 Balaban & Katz v. Internal Revenue, 24.

123 Advertisement, Chicago Daily Tribune, August 28, 1925, 16.

124 “B. & K. Route Orchestra Conductors and Organists,” Balaban & Katz Magazine, August 17, 1925,, 26.

125 Rapp, “Not for Today—But for All Time.”

126 Chicago Daily News, May 8, 1926; Rapp, Rapp & Rapp, 96.

127 Rapp, Rapp & Rapp, 98.

128 Balaban & Katz v. Internal Revenue, 18.

129 “Roxy Theatre (New York City),” Wikipedia, accessed June 13, 2024,

130 Commission on Chicago Landmarks, 23; “Radio City Music Hall,” Wikipedia, accessed December 29, 2023,

131 “History of Radio City Music Hall,” Madison Square Garden, accessed June 18, 2024,

132 Rapp, Rapp & Rapp, 111.

133 “The Biggest Cinema in the World,” Discovery, accessed June 19, 2024,

134 Elliott Stein, “An Acre of Seats in a Garden of Dreams,” Film Comment 15, no. 2 (1979), 32,

135 Rapp, “Not for Today—But for All Time.”

136 Balaban & Katz v. Internal Revenue, 11.

137 Balaban & Katz v. Internal Revenue, 8.

138 Balaban & Katz v. Internal Revenue, 28; Balaban & Katz Corp. v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, 30 F.2d 807 (7th Cir. 1929), U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, 30 F.2d 807 (7th Cir. 1929), February 21, 1929, Justia,

139 “Uptown Theatre (Chicago),” Wikipedia, December 29, 2023,;, accessed December 29, 2023,

140 Commission on Chicago Landmarks, 23.

141 Commission on Chicago Landmarks, 21.