Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Goodman Theatre Center/Harris Selwyn Theatres
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Goodman Theatre Center/Harris Selwyn Theatres (2000) Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg, principal architects; DLK Architecture, supervising architects (1922) C. Howard Crane & H. Kenneth Franzheim, architects /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

In May 1920 New York producers, theater owners and brothers, Archie and Edgar Selwyn formed a partnership with fellow New Yorkers Arthur Hopkins and producer Sam Harris. The Selwyns were under contract at the time to build a Chicago outpost on the southwest corner of Dearborn and Lake Streets - two side-by-side, 1,000-seat theaters, to be known as the Chicago and Selwyn Theatres. By the time architects Howard Crane and Kenneth Franzheim's neo-classical Italian Renaissance and English Georgian inspired playhouses opened to the public in 1922, the theaters were known as the Harris and Selwyn.

[Goodman Theatre Center, 170 N. Dearborn Street, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

It was a plum job for two young up-and-coming architects. Crane was based in Detroit and had a pretty prominent theater commission already under his belt, Detroit's Orchestra Hall, which had its debut in 1919. In 1920-22 he was also busy at work designing the first of what would become a string of great motion picture movie palaces, Detroit's Capital Theater. Franzheim teamed-up with Crane in 1920 and oversaw the construction of the dual theater project in Chicago before moving on to Boston and finally settling into a productive practice - under his own name - in Houston, Texas. Although the theaters appear to be the same on the outside, if you look closely, there are hints in the exterior decor of what historical architectural period audiences would find on the interior once they stepped through the doors. The Harris was much more elaborate and emotionally vigorous, much like its 16th century Renaissance-era Italy inspiration. The Selwyn on the other hand was much more sedate and restrained in its 17th Georgian-inspired decor, much like the stereotypical picture of stiff-upper-lipped Britishness.

   [Goodman Theatre Center/Harris Selwyn Theatres, City of Chicago Landmark /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

By the mid-1960s, the theater district centered around nearby Randolph Street began to change. The Harris and Selwyn had once shared a city block with the Woods, the Garrick and the Olympic. The Olympic was now a parking lot, and Louis Sullivan's Garrick would soon be as well. The Harris & Selwyn had been purchased by Chicago native and Hollywood impresario Mike Todd, who converted the playhouses into large screen movie theaters accompanied by his Todd A-O sound system, and renamed them the Michael Todd and Cinestage Theatres. After Todd's death in an airplane crash in 1958 the theaters - which remained under the ownership of his widow Elizabeth Taylor for the next 20+ years - exhibited movies under lease agreements with a number of theater chains, including a period of XXX adult-rated fare. The buildings film exhibition era came to an end in 1987, the theaters were closed for good, and in 1989 their next door neighbor, the Woods, was closed as well, and the building demolished.

  [Goodman Theatre Center /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

In 1988 Chicago's Goodman Theatre company began looking for a new home. Their 1925 Howard Van Doren Shaw designed Art Institute-adjacent basement theater was outdated and outmoded. Ten years later the Goodman announced they were moving to the city's newly revived Randolph Street theater district with plans to demolish the crumbling interiors of the Harris and Selwyn while building a new, from the ground-up theater and office building on the site of the former Woods building. And the Goodman complex was the first purpose-built, live theatrical performance venue to rise in the Loop in over 75 years.

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