Al. Ringling selected Rapp & Rapp of Chicago to design his magnificent theatre. At that time, the firm of C. W. Rapp (d. 1926) and George L. Rapp (1878-1949) was one of the largest in the country. Specializing in theatre architecture, they designed many of the nation’s most lavish theatre palaces.
George Rapp had assisted in the design of the Majestic (now Shubert) Theatre in Chicago, and also built a vaudeville house in 1910, the Majestic (now the Five Flags) in Dubuque, Iowa. The brothers built the Orpheum in Champaign, Illinois just a year before the Al. Ringling Theatre. While the Orpheum was very similar to the Al. in form and appearance, it was much less ornate. Other major works by Rapp & Rapp included: the Tivoli; Riviera; Uptown; Chicago; Palace and Oriental in Chicago. They also designed the Paramount(s) in Manhattan and Brooklyn, Loew’s Jersey in Jersey City, and the Fox in Washington, DC.
For the Al. Ringling’s auditorium decor and design, the brothers are said to have been inspired by Jacques Ange Gabriel’s Opera of 1763-1770 in the Palace of Versailles, as well as the Grand Theatre of 1777-1780 by Victor Louis at Bourdeaux. The French Baroque manner always remained the primary inspiration for Rapp & Rapp theatres. In opulence they were seldom matched!
George Rapp said of the firm’s design philosophy: “Watch the eyes of a child as it enters the portals of our great theatres and treads the pathway into fairyland. Watch the bright light in the eyes of the tired shopgirl who hurries noiselessly over carpets and sighs with satisfaction as she walks amid furnishings that once delighted the hearts of queens. See the toil-worn father whose dreams have never come true, and look inside his heart as he finds strength and rest within the theatre. There you have the answer to why motion picture theatres are so palatial. Here is a shrine to democracy where there are no privileged patrons. The wealthy rub elbows with the poor — and are better for this contact. Do not wonder, then, at the touches of Italian Renaissance, executed in glazed polychrome terra cotta, or at the lobbies and foyers adorned with replicas of precious masterpieces of another world. The richly ornamented ceilings with motifs copied from master touches of Germany, France, and Italy; the carved niches, cloistered arcades and the great sweeping staircases are not impractical attempts at showing off. These are part of a celestial city — cavern of many-colored jewels, where iridescent lights and luxurious fittings heighten the expectations of pleasure. It is richness unabashed, but richness with a reason.”