Auditorium Theatre Chicago: 25 Things You Should Know About “The Eighth Wonder of the World”

Auditorium Theatre Chicago: 25 Things You Should Know About “The Eighth Wonder of the World”
The sign over the entrance of the Service Men's Center at the Auditorium Theatre during WW II

Did you know that Chicago is home to “The Eighth Wonder of the World?”

The Auditorium Theatre, a model for cutting-edge technology when it was constructed in 1889, was called “The Eighth Wonder of the World.”

How it has survived, re-invented itself, and played host to many of the who’s who of generations is a great national, international and Chicago story.

This year the National Historic Landmark Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University will be celebrating its 125th anniversary throughout the 2014-15 season.

In honor of this great Chicago institution that has been instrumental in helping to make Chicago the world-class city it is today, Show Me Chicago has put together a list of 25 things you should know about the Auditorium Theatre.

  1. President Grover Cleveland came to Chicago in 1879 to lay the cornerstone for the building.
  2. At the time it was built, the Auditorium Building was the largest structure in the US and the tallest building in Chicago.
  3. Famous firsts for the Auditorium Theatre include: the first air conditioning system. The theatre was “air-cooled” through the use of 15 tons of ice daily.
  4. The theatre was the first building to be lit entirely by electrical lights.
  5. The 3,500 bare carbon lights were used throughout the theatre. The same number and style of lights are still used today.
  6. Designed by Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan, the pair also got a little help from the then 21-year-old Frank Lloyd Wright who worked on the theatre as a draftsman.
  7. The 1888 Republican convention was held at the yet-to-be-completed building under the cover of tent canvas.
  8. The theatre can seat up to 3901 audience members.
  9. The theatre once hosted an indoor baseball game (the 1891 contest between the Farraguts and the Lasalles).
  10. At one-time the theatre was home to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Chicago Grand Opera Company before they got their own facilities.
  11. Theodore Roosevelt made his Armageddon Speech at the theatre on June 17, 1912.
  12. The theatre’s leafed ceilings are made of 24-karat gold.
  13. The Auditorium Building was home to Thomas Jefferson College before it was renamed Roosevelt College (later University)–two weeks after the death of President Franklin Roosevelt.
  14. Albert Einstien once sat on the board of directors for Roosevelt College.
  15. After some serious financial problems, the theatre was re-configured to became a WW II Service Men’s Center for housing, feeding and entertaining over 22 million service men and women.
  16. At one time the stage and front row area of the theatre was converted into a bowling alley.
  17. The theatre was dormant for two decades from the late 1940’s until 1967.
  18. The Auditorium Building was the first multi-use building–containing, in addition to the theatre, a 400 room hotel and offices.
  19. Rock legends including Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix performed at the theatre.
  20. Booker T. Washington spoke at the Auditorium Theatre in 1900.
  21. Ziegfield Follies had a month-long run at the theatre in 1908.
  22. The Auditorium Theatre almost met its end in the early 1930’s but was left standing because it would have cost more to demolish it than the land was worth.
  23. John Phillip Sousa performed at the theatre in 1891.
  24. More than 200 performances and events—ranging from dance and theatre to music, education and religious services attract more than a quarter of a million people to the theatre each year.
  25. For this December’s 125th anniversary bash Patti LuPone will sing “Home Sweet Home.”  Why this song and why Patti LuPone? “Home Sweet Home” was the song sung at the inaugural opening of the theatre in 1889 by the celebrated nineteenth-century opera singer Adelina Patti.  Adelina was the great-grand-aunt of Patti LuPone.

The Auditorium Theatre is currently undergoing some needed renovations to ensure that it is around for at least another 125 years. If you would like to donate, or learn more about the theatre and the upcoming season, click here.


Tours of the Auditorium Theatre are available Mondays at 10:30 am and 12 noon and Thursdays at 10:30 am. Tour tickets are $10 per person and can be purchased beginning 30 minutes prior to the tour at the Auditorium Theatre Box Office and in advance at Ticketmaster. Additional times for group tours (20+) are available by appointment. To schedule a group tour of the Auditorium Theatre, call (312) 341-2357.

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