The rapid industrialization of America in the late nineteenth century “changed the nature of work and daily life and gave rise to an extensive network of corporations that integrated the country into a national economy.” (Dumenil, 4) Fueled by the massive arrival of immigrants, America became a highly class stratified country and the captains of industry and robber barons were at the top of the social food chain.
The most significant change, however, was in the production of goods. “As corporatized mass production replaced localized, smaller units of production, Americans became more dependent on wages, salaries, and currency. Systems of barter and exchange, which had supplemented currency in eighteenth century American households, dried up. In middle class households, … this translated into new roles for husbands and wives: husbands became 'breadwinners' and wives became managers of the domestic economy whose chief task was to stretch the dollars their husbands brought home.” The shift to the mass production of ready-made goods required the creation of a mass market and “advertising, in its nascent professional form, made mass produced goods sound not only necessary but desirable.” (Some Enchanted Evening) According to a University of Virginia report on the development of advertising and retail marketing, it was caused by the fear of a depression resulting from overproduction.
“By the late 1890s, overproduction of goods caused American businessmen to fear glut, panic, and depression. Businesses needed to 'push' merchandise and create a sense of need for mass-produced goods. This was accomplished through advertising and the creation of new public centers of consumption.
“Department stores like… Marshall Field replaced older, smaller general stores and specialty shops. Technological advancements, among other things, made the birth of the modern department store possible. By the mid-1850s, cast iron made it easy to design buildings with higher ceilings and wider areas for display; the cost and labor for intricate ornamentation was also lessened when it was done in cast iron rather than stone or wood. Technological advances in glassmaking during the same period made it easier for retailers to get large sheets of plate glass for a comparatively inexpensive sum. Glass display cases increased consumption of goods. Larger sheets of plate glass allowed for a whole new kind of retail display, the department store window. The packaging and display of goods became a chief concern of retailers and a whole new breed of store employee, the window trimmer, came into existence.” (Some Enchanted Evening)
Another encouragement to shoppers concerned the entrance of a retail establishment. Wide, inviting entrances were encouraged so that "no hindrance should be offered to people who may drift into the store.’ Both Marshall Field’s and The Chicago Theater would utilize this concept in their architecture and, “’drifting in' was made easier by advances in mass transportation, notably the streetcar.”
The Chicago Loop had been originally named thus because it was the area where horse-drawn cable car routes “looped” back towards their points of origin. At the beginning of 1892, the unpaved Chicago streets were a disaster, clogged with carts, wagons and streetcars. In fact, by the time of the Columbian Exposition, in 1893, Chicago, already the farthest-spreading city in America, had the largest cable-car system in the world.“ (Miller, 265) It is interesting to note that Marshall Field was a director and leading stockholder of the Chicago City Railway Company, which ran the system. He put money into the system, because it put money into his pocket. “…It made money for him, bringing shoppers from outlying neighborhoods directly to the doors of his retail store. Mass transit concentrated the city tremendously, creating the downtown congestion that turned dry-goods outlets like Marshall Field and Company into fabulous shopping emporiums.” (Miller, 268)
But, with all the traffic, shopping in the Loop could still be quite an experience. So, “Cable Czar” and ex-con Charles Tyson Yerkes got an idea to build a an elevated transportation system that could go straight down the street and not have to deal with such pesky details as buying property and demolishing buildings in order to lay rail. “ (Miller, 270) The promoters of what soon became known as the ‘El’ found a ready market for their proposal to lift commuters above the maddening crowd via a railroad supported on a forest of steel stilts.” (Chicago Days, 64)
“Mass consumption and a notion of the prevailing 'tastes' were also pushed by the daily newspapers, periodicals, and advertisers.” (Some Enchanted Evening) A new attitude towards advertising began to emerge in the mid-nineteenth century when “the New York Herald announced that its ads would be renewed daily. Managing Editor Frederic Hudson explained that ads would henceforth be considered a ‘feature’ of the Herald and expressed his belief that ads ‘form the most interesting and practical ‘city news." They are the hopes, the thoughts, the joys, the plans, the shames, the losses, the mishaps, the fortunes, the pleasure, the miseries, the politics, and the religion of the people.’” (Some Enchanted Evening) The ad agencies were born and probably they, more than even the theaters owners and moviemakers, were responsible for creating dissatisfaction in people’s lives and a desire for something better. In fact, “the message advertisers employed reinforced idolatry of the upper class even while it professed to surmount class distinction. Equality came to mean equal access to consumer goods rather than equal access to the means of production…” (Some Enchanted Evening) Shop girls and housewives were carefully led to believe that if they purchased the right toothpaste or dress or breakfast cereal, they could share in the “lifestyle of the aristocracy.” Products such as “DuBarry lingerie, Pompadour silks, Imperial underwear, Regina petticoats, Royal Typewriters, Royal Waist and Skirt Supporters, and Princess Loop-Belts were but a few of the products whose names implied a promised connection to class status.” (Some Enchanted Evening)
In a 1929 interview, theater decorator Harold Rambusch called the movie palaces "a social safety valve in that the public can partake of the same luxuries as the rich, and use them to the same full extent." (qtd. Some Enchanted Evening) Theater owners, such as Balaban & Katz, used the same strategy when they named their theaters the Paramount or Regal or Paradise and outside facades dazzled people with exotic images and styles drawn from Spain, France, Italy and the Orient.” (Moviegoing in America, 71) It was all designed to capture people’s imagination and make the moviegoer feel like royalty, and the theaters were designed to upstage anything that could be put on the screen. And it didn’t hurt that by 1910 new carbon-burning electrical light, floodlight and spotlights had come on the scene, transforming downtown into a glittering fantasy world.
New technology also influenced the way movies were seen. In the beginning were Kinetoscope machines, which only allowed for one viewer at a time. Rows of machines would be set up in parlors, nickelodeons or penny arcades and owners, like their department store counterparts, would try to attract customers with “sidewalk displays and through wide entranceways with the doors set back or entirely removed.” Nickelodeons catered primarily to lower and middle-class clientele, while “respectable theater--opera and plays—which included vaudeville… catered to the upper middle class.” (Some Enchanted Evening)
Architecturally, big-time vaudeville houses relied on classical facades to increase legitimacy and respectability, but their gaudy electrical displays on the sidewalk and the marquee often contradicted this image. These theaters attempted a fusion of high and popular cultures--the White City and the Midway of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition rolled into one structure.” (Some Enchanted Evening)
The vaudeville houses took a lesson from their department store counterparts offering more than just entertainment but additional amenities, such as lounges, meeting rooms and nurseries to attract customers. And, most importantly on steamy summer city nights, was air conditioning. The movie palace was born. Everything about it was designed, like other products, retail establishments and advertisements of the age, to make the average citizen feel like royalty. “Yet although aristocratic pretensions graced the theaters’ walls and interiors, democracy ruled the box office. Unlike legitimate theaters that charged a variety of prices depending on location, Balaban & Katz theaters ‘established one price to make all men feel equal in the pocketbook.’” There were no reserved sections because, the brothers felt, the public didn’t want any kind of class distinction. (Moviegoing in America, 72)
They were right. And the picture palaces were a commercial success. Between 1914 and 1922, 4,000 new theaters opened in the U.S. And, the first Midwest palace was the Central Park Theater in Chicago, a 2,400 seat house designed in 1917 by Rapp and Rapp for the Balaban & Katz film company. (Some Enchanted Evening) Four years later, The Chicago Theater opened its doors.
The Chicago Theater
“Built by Balaban and Katz for $4 million, it was a far cry from the storefront nickelodeons of a decade earlier. Parisian influence dominated the architectural design, with the six-story entrance arch modeled after the Arc de Triomphe and the grand lobby and furnishings in the elaborate style of King Louis XIV. Inside the 3800-seat auditorium, the movie goer entered a world of fantasy and romance -- on screen and off -- enjoying the finest first-run movie, a cartoon or short feature, a news reel, and a live stage show.” (http://www.greaterstatestreet.com/TOUR.HTM) Norma Talmadge starred in "The Sign on the Door." A 50-piece orchestra performed in the pit and Jesse Crawford played the mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ. A staff of 125 white-gloved ushers welcomed guests who paid 25 cents until 1 p.m., 35 cents in the afternoon and 50 cents after 6 p.m.
It is interesting to note that the Marshall Field and Company monthly magazine reviewed the opening of the Chicago and its architecture commenting that “it had been built and decorated with perhaps more extravagance than taste, because the great mass of people are hungry for beauty, for color, in a form that they can assimilate and comprehend. The more elaborate schools of decoration and architecture provide the means to administer to this hunger.” (qtd. Nasaw, 228-229) “As far as Chicago's bright-light districts went, the north end of State Street in the Loop was almost unrivaled. By the end of the 1920s, there were no less than three department stores, seven movie palaces, and dozens of restaurants and night clubs within two blocks of the intersection of State and Randolph.” (Newman)
Marshall Field is often quoted as saying, “Give the lady what she wants.” Roxy Rothapfel, the crown prince of the movie palaces, countered, "Giving the people what they want is fundamentally and disastrously wrong. The people don't know what they want. They want to be entertained, that's all. Don't give the people what they want--give 'em something better."(qtd. Hall, 37) Like retailers of the age, theater owners and architects excelled in creating demand for environments and amenities customers didn't know they wanted.
There was much in common between the department store and the movie palace. In Chicago, the Marshall Field’s windows of State Street seduced the shopper to enter, leave their cares behind and gaze at the wonders of the world. It was the same at the Chicago Theater when the shop girl entered the theater through the glittering Arch. They were both cut from the same cloth of developing consumerism and were solidly sewn into the tapestry of the city. They were, and are, dream merchants; Grande dames of diversion. And true to Marcus Lowe’s declaration, the show started on the sidewalk… once upon a time in the Loop.
BIBLIOGRAPHY and SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER READING
Belcher, Heather and Knox, Janice A. Chicago’s Loop: Then & Now. Chicago: Arcadia, 2002.
Bernstein, Arnie. Hollywood on Lake Michigan. Chicago: Lake Claremont P, 1998.
Chicago Architecture 1872-1922: Birth of a Metropolis. Ed. Zukowsky, John. Munich: Prestel, 2000.
Dumenil, Lynn. Modern Temper: American Culture and Society in the 1920s. New York:
Hill and Wang, 1995.
Gomery, Douglas. Shared Pleasures: A History of Movie Presentation in the United States. Madison: University of Wisconsin P, 1992.
Hall, Ben M. The Best Remaining Seats: The Golden Age of the Movie Palace. New York: Da Capo P, Inc., 1988.
Halnon, Mary. Some Enchanted Evenings: American Picture Palaces. Jan. 1998. American Studies at the University of Virginia. 14 Apr. 2004
Heise, Kenan. Chaos, Creativity, and Culture. Salt Lake City: Gibbs-Smith, 1998.
Miller, Donald L. City of the Century: The Epic of Chicago and the Making of America. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996.
Moviegoing In America. Ed. Gregory A. Waller. Cornwall: Blackwell, Ltd., 2002. 83-169.
Movies and American Society. Ed. Steven J. Ross. Oxford: Blackwell Ltd., 2002.
National Geographic Society, Historical Atlas of the United States. Centennial Edition.Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 1988.
Nasaw, David. Going Out. New York: BasicBooks, 1993.
Naylor, David. American Picture Palaces: The Architecture of Fantasy. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1981.
Newman, Scott A. Jazz Age Chicago. 1 July 2000. Jazz Age Chicago. 23 May 2004
Pildas, Ave. Movie Palaces. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., 1980.
Stoddard, Richard. Theatre and Cinema Architecture: A Guide to Information Sources. Vol. 5. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1978.
Valentine, Maggie. "From Movie Palace to Multiplex." Blueprints 1995. 13 Apr. 2004
Valentine, Maggie. The Show Starts on the Sidewalk: An Architectural History of the Movie Theatre. New Haven and London: Yale UP, 1994.
Von Eckardt, Wolf. Live the Good Life!: Creating a Human Community Through the Arts. New York: American Council for the Arts, 1982.