Colonial Theatre

24 W. Randolph Street,
Chicago, IL 60601

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Additional Info

Previously operated by: Jones, Linick & Schaefer, Klaw & Erlanger

Architects: Benjamin Howard Marshall

Styles: Beaux-Arts, Neo-Classical

Previous Names: Iroquois Theatre, Hyde & Behman's Music Hall

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News About This Theater

Result of the tragic fire of 1903, post card view

Opened on November 23, 1903, the Iroquois Theatre was designed by Benjamin Howard Marshall, who also designed the Illinois Theatre, and would later design the Blackstone Theatre (today the Merle Reskin Theatre) with future partner Charles Eli Fox. It, like most of the legitimate houses of the day, was designed in the Beaux-Arts style, made popular by the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago a decade earlier. The interior was advertised in newspapers as "a temple of beauty" as well as being "absolutely fireproof", with an asbestos fire curtain.

On December 30, 1903, a month after the Iroquois Theatre opened, comedian Eddie Foy was appearing onstage in the smash musical comedy "Mr. Bluebeard" to a standing-room only crowd of almost 1,900. Painted canvas backdrops backstage placed too close to a spotlight caught on fire, quickly spreading to the stage area itself just as Foy was starting the second act. In a panic, those on stage rushed out the stage door, letting in a blast of air, which only fed the fire more, causing it to jump into the auditorium itself, quickly reaching to the balconies.

The asbestos curtain somehow jammed halfway down, leaving the theatre to the mercy of the blaze. Despite Foy’s pleas to the panicked crowd to stay calm and that the situation was under control, patrons ran to the exits in throngs only to find the doors opened inwards, and many were bolted shut from the outside.

Many people were trampled to death, as well as leaping to their deaths from the balconies or from fire escapes three or four floors above W. Randolph Street.

By the time it was all over, more than 600 men, women and children had perished in the blaze, making it the worst disaster in Chicago’s history, inflicting a greater death toll than the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, in which about 250 died.

Though the auditorium was heavily damaged by the fire, the Iroquois Theatre was structurally sound, and was rebuilt and reopened less than a year later on September 19, 1904 as Hyde and Behman’s Music Hall, which presented vaudeville. In 1905, the theatre became the Colonial Theatre, which was, like the Iroquois Theatre, a legitimate playhouse.

In 1913, the Colonial Theatre was acquired from the Klaw & Erlanger theatrical circuit by the Jones, Linick, & Schaefer circuit, which operated it as a vaudeville and movie theatre.

The Colonial Theatre was closed on May 17, 1924 and was razed on May 26, 1924 to make way for the United Masonic Temple building, which also housed the Oriental Theatre, which, after a long period of inactivity, is once again open as the James M. Nederlander Theatre, as a live theatrical venue (it has its own page on Cinema Treasures).

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 49 comments)

DavidZornig on November 12, 2018 at 9:13 pm

Correct, the year of completion of the Delaware Building was 1874. But it does not clarify that. Maybe it did in other copy that accompanied the photo in it’s original source. But it also says Northwest corner, and it is clearly the Northeast corner pictured.

Scott on November 12, 2018 at 9:36 pm

There certainly is a lot of confusion in this world. And then a good chunk of the Delaware was destroyed for construction of the new Masonic Temple Building/Oriental Theatre in 1924. Viewing it both before and after 1924, one might think it to be two different buildings. Crazy.

DavidZornig on November 12, 2018 at 10:55 pm

Yes, more confusion. Two Masonic Temple Buildings too… The 1904 photo does say Vaudeville on the back of the Hyde & Behman’s wall. Which would have no longer been visibkle once the Oliver Typewriter Building went up in 1907/`08.

DavidZornig on November 23, 2019 at 2:32 am

Link for the show that opened circa September 1905, coincides with photo just added.

DavidZornig on January 17, 2021 at 3:34 pm

Colonial Theatre promos on the Woods Theatre Building nearing completion 1917/1918. Description in comments.

DavidZornig on January 4, 2023 at 4:59 am

Flickr link with a program for the Colonial Theatre. It says it was renamed in 1904 but previous evidence confirmed 1905. Also September 24, 1905 print ad proof added to gallery courtesy Tim O'Neill.

DavidZornig on January 4, 2023 at 5:10 am

It reopened as Hyde & Behman’s on September 26, 1904.

DavidZornig on August 4, 2023 at 5:34 pm

From the Chicago Tribune, May 18, 1924 (image added):

“The Colonial theater, which closed its doors for the last time last night on a departing crowd of theatergoers. The furnishings will be sold tomorrow and on May 26 wreckers will begin the work of demolishing it to make way for the new United Masonic temple. It was the scene of the disastrous fire of 1903, when it was named the Iroquois.”

(Closing was May 17, 1924)

DavidZornig on August 4, 2023 at 5:37 pm

Chicagology link credit Terry Gregory.

Tim O'Neill
Tim O'Neill on December 31, 2023 at 12:23 am

Hyde & Behman’s Music Hall actually had its Grand Opening on Monday, September 19, 1904. I originally believed it was September 26, 1904, but I was mistaken. See pre-opening Chicago Tribune ad in Photo section.

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