Civic Opera House

The Civic Opera Company (1922–1931) was a Chicago company that produced seven seasons of grand opera in the Auditorium Theatre from 1922 to 1928, and three seasons at its own Civic Opera House from 1929 to 1931 before falling victim to financial difficulties brought on in part by the Great Depression. The company consisted largely of the remnants of the Chicago Opera Association, a company that produced seven seasons of grand opera in the Auditorium Theatre from 1915 until its bankruptcy in 1921.

There’s a story told on Chicago’s architecture boat tours to describe the Civic Opera House. Legend says the owner, Samuel Insull, built the opera house for his opera singer wife because she didn’t get hired at the Met in New York. The building was designed to look like a chair supposedly turning its back on New York as a snub to The Met. Aww, love!

It’s actually two theaters combined into one. When architects Graham, Anderson, Probst & White built the Civic Opera House in the late 1920s, they included a smaller theater behind it. The 878-seat Civic Theater was originally home to classic plays, then later a studio for ABC in the 1940s. It returned to theater and dance in the 60s, but struggled off-and-on until 1993, when it was engulfed by the Civic Opera. The space allowed the Civic Opera to expand the backstage, create a rehearsal hall, dressing rooms, and scenery storage space.

Fun fact :: remnants of The Civic Theater, like the doorway on Wacker Drive and the wall inscription on Washington, still exist today.

Unfortunately for all the architecture tour guides (and those partial to love stories), the reality is Samuel Insull built the opera house because he loved the arts. His wife, a popular New York singer, sang Broadway — not opera. And the chair-like design was the idea of architects Graham, Anderson, Probst & White. Geez, the love story is a little better, isn’t it?

Fun fact :: the same architects are also responsible for some of Chicago’s most famous buildings, like the Field Museum, Wrigley Building, and the Merchandise Mart.

 

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