Chicago Marquee

Chicago Marquee

Chicago Theater on State Street. Landmark and legendary marquee, the symbol of Chicago.

That’s how the story goes.

One day in 1907 young Barney Balaban took his mom Gussie Mendeburskey to a movie theater at the corner of Roosevelt and Kedzie. She was not impressed with moving pictures but she immediately saw a business opportunity.

She said: The customers pay before they even see what they’re paying for! There’ll be money in that business.

The rest is history.

Two years later Barney and his younger brother A.J. rented the same place their mother first visited. They went into the movie theater business.

Then their sister Ida got married to Sam Katz. Together with the new brothers-in-law they worked to develop a chain of cinemas in the Midwest, the Balaban and Katz Theatre Chain.

They have been the first to offer air conditioning in the theaters. They showed not only movies but staged lavish live shows. In ten years Balaban and Katz operated 125 theaters in the Midwest. They became millionaires.

The Chicago Theater was the jewel in their collection. It was “the largest, most costly and grandest of the super deluxe movie palaces” of its time.

It was designed in 1921 by architects (another brothers) Cornelius Ward Rapp and George Leslie Rapp. The structure is seven stories tall and it fills a half of a city block.

The six-story tall triumphal arch has been compared to the l’Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

Inside the arch there is a circular Tiffany stained glass window. The design is the coat of arms for the Balaban and Katz Company: two horses holding ribbons of 35 mm film in their mouths outlined by a border of film reels.

The Y-shaped figure in the circle behind the word Chicago symbolizes the forked Chicago River at Wolf Point. Actually, the badge has a name. It is called the Chicago Municipal Device. You can find it visible on many old Chicago buildings.

The marquee became an unofficial emblem of the city of Chicago.

All because of a Jewish mother, an immigrant from Odessa in Ukraine. She raised and inspired her children to go into the world and achieve great things.