The “Wonder Theatre of the World” was owned and operated by Balaban and Katz, designed by Rapp & Rapp Architects of Chicago and opened on October 26, 1921. The theatre is still in operation today and listed as a National Historic Place and a Chicago Landmark. The Chicago Theatre’s auditorium ceiling and dome boost fourteen very large Roman/Greek allegorically themed murals by Grell. The Spirit of Light mural shows Apollo riding his sun drenched chariot adorning the proscenium arch spanning an impressive 40 feet wide by 15 feet tall. Grell first painted fifteen French Fairytale themed murals for the original grand opening in 1921, however, for the Chicago World’s Fair Exposition of 1933 and 1934, Balaban & Katz renovated the monstrous Baroque theatre and once again commissioned Grell to paint the fifteen Greek / Roman themed murals that still remain today. One of the smaller rear 1933 murals has since been covered or removed to make room for a control box at the rear of house. Grell was commissioned to paint the 1933 murals for the Chicago World’s Fair A Century of Progress and his work is still on exhibit today for the world to enjoy. Cherubs (flying babies) are prominent in both commissions. Today the theatre is owned and operated by Madison Square Garden based in New York City.
The murals are: The Spirit of Light (Apollo), Minerva, Bacchus, Vesta, Venus, Mars, Hecate, Calliope, and Cherubs.
Additional murals were painted in the mens smoking lounge believed to be by Grell and in his style based on the included photos.
This was Rapp & Rapp Architect’s fifteenth awarded project of 1919. The original conception name was the Capitol Theatre with plans drawn up in March and April 1920.
Photographs taken at The Chicago Theatre, with special thanks to MSG Entertainment and The Chicago Theatre
Black & White Images courtesy American Theatre Architecture Archive, Theatre Historical Society of America
Color Images Courtesy of Dwight Harts Photography, Denver, CO
Madison Square Garden history of the Chicago Theatre which mentions Grell as the artist.