In total, the Auditorium Theatre held more than 4,000 seats. Adler designed the theatre’s acoustics to allow the seats farthest from the stage to hear each performance clearly.
By 8:00 p.m. on May 4, 1886, Chicago’s Haymarket Square was bustling with as many as 3,000 people. They had gathered to support the city’s labor movement and hear its leaders speak.
The day before, policemen had killed union workers outside of the city’s McCormick Reaper Works as a crowd jeered the scabs who replaced them. Two days before that, tens of thousands had walked out on their jobs and paraded down Michigan Avenue, demonstrating for an eight-hour workday.
By 10:30 on the night of the 4th, the speeches in Haymarket were nearing their end. As the crowd thinned, nearly 200 policemen stormed the square. A dynamite bomb was thrown into their lines. The police responded with a confused volley through the spectators and their own ranks. Eight officers and an unknown number of bystanders were killed.
Before its completion in 1890, the Auditorium Theatre hosted the 1888 Republican National Convention. A massive tarp was drawn across the roofless building to accommodate the event.
Just a small town in 1830, Chicago would grow into America’s second-largest city in 60 years. By 1850, half its residents had been born abroad. Those immigrants lucky enough to find jobs often worked long, dangerous hours in the city’s factories and mills. Many came home to squalid living conditions in the tenements of ethnic enclaves. Strikes and violence were commonplace.
Social and political division permeated the city. Even theater and entertainment were battlegrounds between the city’s capitalist, natural-born elite and its socialist working class. Workingmen’s orchestras, theater groups, and lectures were organized as politically motivated alternatives to their capitalist counterparts.
The brainchild of prominent Chicagoan Ferdinand Peck, the Auditorium Theatre was intended as an entertainment venue not only for the city’s elite, but for its working class masses.
But from the smoldering social tension of the time, plans emerged for a building that would be the catalyst for Chicago’s ascension to one of world’s great cities. Just four weeks after the Haymarket Affair, Ferdinand Peck, one of the city’s richest and most prominent figures, announced his plans for Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre.... Read More →
The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.
David Weible is a content specialist for the National Trust, previously with Preservation magazine. He came to D.C. from Cleveland, Ohio, where he wrote for Sailing World and Outside magazines.