Chicago’s Oriental Theatre marquee is history: PHOTOS

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The Oriental Theatre marquee is transitioned to “Nederlander” to reflect its new name, the James M. Nederlander Theatre, on February 5, 2019. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

It lit up the night sky along Randolph Street between State and Dearborn for 93 years, and now the iconic Oriental Theatre marquee is no more.

Workers have been working on the massive illuminated marquee for several days, carefully removing the letters that once spelled “Oriental” and installing the letters that will now spell “Nederlander” — the theater’s new moniker in honor of the late theater impresario, James M. Nederlander, who passed away in 2016.

The theater operates under the auspices of Broadway in Chicago, which is owned in part by the New York-based Nederlander Organization. Nederlander owns/operates numerous theaters across the country, including nine venues on Broadway and more than a dozen across the country including Chicago.

The 3,200-seat Oriental Theatre, designed by the legendary architecture firm of Rapp and Rapp, once operated as a grand movie palace for Balaban and Katz. Live entertainment — from Broadway shows to concerts by some of the biggest names in show business — would eventually become the main attraction at the downtown “palace” whose decor features South-Asian motifs, once considered glamorous and “far away” wondrous.

In recent years, however — even after a multi-million-dollar restoration in 1998 which renamed the venue the Oriental Theatre Ford Center for the Performing Arts — politicians and others voiced their objections to the term “oriental,” calling it offensive.

In a statement last November announcing the name change, Broadway in Chicago president Lou Raizin praised the late Nederlander for his commitment to Chicago’s entertainment scene: “Renaming the theater gives us a way to say thank you and to acknowledge the extraordinary difference he made for Chicago in his lifetime,” he said.

The new marquee will be officially lit Feb. 8 at 5:30 p.m. The Tony Award-winning musical “Dear Evan Hansen” will be the first Broadway show to play the newly named venue when it opens Feb. 13.

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