Soon the theater fell into disrepair. In an effort to preserve the theater, it was added to the Federal National Registry of Historic Places in 1978, but the building continued to crumble. The theater was closed to the public in 1981, and the site was considered for shopping mall and a 1,600 seat cinema. In 1996, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley announced that the Oriental would be restored to its original grandeur for the presentation of live stage musicals by Livent, Inc. Renamed the Ford Center for the Performing Arts in 1997, the restoration of the theater was completed in October 1998, at which time it was opened with the Chicago premiere of RAGTIME. The venue was acquired by SFX Theatrical Group in 1999, and its production of FOSSE debuted at the Oriental Theater before embarking on a national tour. The list of hits goes on, including the pre-Broadway premiere of BLAST in 2000, the world premiere of SING-A-LONG Wizard of Oz in January 2003 and the record-breaking run of WICKED from 2005 to 2009.
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The CHICAGO ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION building’s façade, which is strongly reminiscent of the Doges Palace in Venice, was designed to give the Chicago Athletic Association a distinctive identity when viewed from the lakefront, particularly by visitors to the World’s Columbia Exposition of 1893. The architect, Henry Ives Cobb, who was a club member, was well known for his designs for the Chicago Historical Society, the Newberry Library, and several buildings at the University of Chicago. Although the club survived the Great Depression, by 2007 declining membership finally forced it’s closing.
After the requisite period of failed deals, the property was purchased for $13 million in 2012 by AJ Capital Partners LLC and Geolo and Agman which committed over $60 million to convert and restore the clubhouse into a four-star hotel. Simply dubbed the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel, the totally restored 122 year old Venetian Gothic building and its 241 rooms are now officially open for business.