Midway Gardens was constructed as the first permanent home for outdoor summer music. The design accommodated both indoor and outdoor entertainment venues for year-round operation with dining, dancing, bars, and seating for thousands. The scale was immense and the expense attests to the commitment felt by the public at that time. It was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and opened to the public (before being entirely completed) in June of 1914. It was to be the summer home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra but was also intended for broad cultural use and regular public access. The outdoor orchestral stage had no problem accommodating the 60 person orchestra. 700 opera chairs were placed for optimal acoustical exposure and thousands more as table seating in an open garden with multiple dance floors.
The project was never fully realized or properly funded but still says something significant about the place of music in the American culture and community. Drinking and dining were an important part of the experience. The onset of prohibition (1920–1933) ended the drinking and seriously cut into business but the crash of 1929 put an end to large numbers of families dining out. The Midway Gardens were sold and resold and ultimately demolished in 1929.
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© 2008, Leonard Wyeth