The Balaban and Katz Theater Corporation perfected the "movie palace” concept in Chicago, creating an extremely popular pastime that contributed greatly to Chicago’s cultural identity. The Balabans started in the movie theater business in 1908 by leasing the 100-seat Kedzie Nickelodeon on Kedzie Avenue. Balaban brothers Barney and A. J. dreamed of operating 5,000-seat movie palaces, so in 1916, they joined family friends Sam and Morris Katz to form the Balaban and Katz Theater Corporation. Their mission was to offer an unrivaled theater-going experience with the finest live performances and service. They built ornate theaters, such as the Chicago, the Uptown, and the Congress Theaters, filling them with fine furnishings, antiques, and artwork. Balaban and Katz produced live stage shows between the movies with the likes of Bob Hope, Louis Armstrong, and Benny Goodman. Sadly, only a few of these gorgeous theaters still stand today.
About the Author
Author David Balabannamed after his grandfather, one of the seven Balaban brothers who ran Balaban and Katzgrew up on stories of his grandfather and great-uncles’ movie theaters. He currently teaches television production and film at Gordon Parks Academy in East Orange, New Jersey.
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The Chicago Movie Palaces of Balaban and Katz, Illinois (Images of America Series) based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
The story of the Balaban & Katz movie palaces is the story of modern entertainment in Chicago, starting with the humble roots along old Maxwell Street and expanding to a vast, citywide cinema empire. It's also the story of Chicago's progress, as the skyscrapers rose up around the downtown Chicago and Oriental theaters, southside theaters closed down and were demolished, and northside theaters like the Gateway and the Uptown continue to flirt with the wrecking ball. The book is also something of a family scrapbook, with the first pages documenting the people of the Balaban and Katz heritage, and chronicling their progress from a bedsheet on a wall for a nickel a head, to the 5000 seat behemoths that became landmarks. It's also an interesting parallel between the days of the movie palace and today's googolplexes, devoid of character and seemingly slapped together to maximize customer density and turnaround. Even the 'blander' theaters in the book have striking architecture and decoration, all made when movies were considered a tremendous privelege, not a thoughtless pastime. Also, it's interesting to note the fashion of the employees and technology of the day- all the old movies you see nowadays where the ushers have the fez-like hat and the sharp, crisp buttoned uniform? That's a B&K thing. Air conditioning? B&K did it here, first. Even the old advertising in the book (which could have been a book unto itself) sells the chairs and the theaters, not even the films showing. The theater itself was a destination, not just walls, a ceiling and a projector. Ultimately, the book shows much of what we've lost or the way things were, I would have liked to see how the places are today - either still packing them in, like the Chicago or the Oriental standing vacant or crumbling, like the Uptown or just empty lots. So goes the theater, so goes the neighborhood perhaps. It would have been nice to get a glimpse inside the old Uptown, but being able to see how the Congress Theater and the Riviera were before they began catering to metal bands and punk acts is a fair tradeoff. Chicago historians, moviegoers, theater patrons and Loop businesspeople all would do well to read this, and to know the kind of history they walk past on a daily basis downtown