Built in 1878 by the First
Regiment Illinois National Guard, the
Jackson Street Armory had been vacated in 1891
when the Guard relocated to its new
Burnham-designed facility on South Michigan Ave.
Various activities and events were tried in the old
armory, from weddings to flower shows, and in 1894 a
theater gave the property a run, but by 1900
the trio of private owners were motivated to find new tenants.
Will J. Davis and Al Hayman
negotiated a ninety-nine year lease with a sliding
annual rent that reached $15,000 by year three – and
was to remain there until the lease ran out in 1998.
A group of investors paid over a quarter million
dollars for construction. The lions share was put up
Klaw & Erlanger corporation with small shares to
Will J. Davis and
Harry Powers. Davis managed the facility
with help from his secretary,
Mary Ellen O'Hagan, who would eventually become
his wife. Davis continued to occupy offices in
the Illinois after the Iroquois was built.
The Illinois premier came on October 15, 1900, with
Marlowe performing in "Barbara Frietchie."
Illinois/Iroquois theater manager will J. Davis
would retain an oversized photo of Marlowe for the
rest of his life. He was proud to have a
performer of her stature at the Illinois premier.
She and her second husband, E. H. Sothern, exchanged
Christmas cards and best wishes telegrams with
On December 30, 1903
The Billionaire was playing
at the Illinois Theatre the week of Dec 30, 1903. It
was a musical farce by Harry B. Smith and Gus Kerker,
Jerome Sykes, Harry Macdonough, John Kennedy,
Walter Percival and Josie Intropodi. Sykes died of
pneumonia the day before the Iroquois fire, Dec 29,
1903, and Iroquois/Illinois theater manager Will J.
Davis was attending Sykes funeral when a messenger
came to tell him the Iroquois was on fire.
The were many common
characteristics between the Illinois and the
Iroquois theaters. Each were designed by young
Benjamin Marshall and built by
Fuller Construction, dogged by labor disputes.
The decors were hallmarked by white marble and
brass, the asbestos curtains featured painted scenes
St. John Lewis, draperies and color schemes
the Marshall Field store. The Illinois had
more boxes than the Iroquois and the men's smoking
room was finished to look like a rustic cabin,
complete with chinked logs. An abrupt change
of pace from the French Renaissance affects that
dominated the rest of the theater.
The Illinois accommodated
twenty-six dressing rooms, two at stage level, the
rest in the basement. The stage, smaller than that
at McVickers, was 46' deep x 70' wide and 84' high.