Soon, a Bally’s Chicago temporary casino will open at the city’s historic Medinah Temple. Why is an Illinois casino opening in a building dubbed a ‘temple’?
By definition, a temple is a building for religious worship. Marrying that with a casino seems a bit odd, but the building is actually the perfect spot for a temporary gambling venue.
Many Chicagoans have heard of, or walked by, the Medinah Temple, located at 600 Wabash Ave in River North. The building has led to endless amounts of head-scratching and curiosity about Medinah’s origins.
This is the backstory behind one of the most unique looking buildings in a city filled with distinctive architecture.
Chicago’s Medinah Temple origins
The Shriners — an American Masonic society founded in 1870 — built the Medinah Temple in 1912. The building served as a Moorish style amphitheater designed by architects Huehl and Schmid.
Notably, the Medinah Temple’s exterior features two massive onion domes on the roof and stained glass windows. Inside was an auditorium that seated roughly 4,200 people spanning three levels.
In 1915, the Austin Organ Company manufactured and installed a 30,000-pound organ in Medinah. The building had amazing acoustics and played host to many Chicago Symphony recordings from the 1960s to the 1980s.
Further, Medinah played host to the annual Shriners’ circus. It also was the site of the The Bozo 25th Anniversary Special, broadcast live in 1986.
Medinah Temple undergoes change in 2000
The Temple underwent a stretch of time where it stopped playing host to events, and the building began breaking down. With no urgency to maintain it, Medinah Temple fell into ruin.
In 2000, the Medinah Shriners officially vacated the Temple. That same year, the World Monument Fund added the building to its watch list of significant structures falling into endangerment. The World Monument Fund is a private, non-profit group focused on the preservation of historic and cultural architecture.
Friedman Properties, the City of Chicago, the State of Illinois and Federated Department Stores then formed a partnership. The group halted the Medinah Temple’s demolition.
In 2000, Medinah was restored and repurposed as a retail space. Key elements were re-designed to emulate its look from original drawings.
Medinah Temple received designation as a Chicago Landmark in 2001. The Temple then re-opened in 2003 as the first Bloomingdale’s Home Store in the country.
By 2019, Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s parent company, sold the building to Chicago developer Al Friedman. The next year, Bloomingdale’s exited the building.
Medinah Temple is a perfect host for Bally’s temporary casino
With 135,000 square feet to work with, Bally’s selected a good building for its short-term casino.
Medinah Temple is in Chicago’s Magnificent Mile. Notably, the area has high-end shopping, hotels and restaurants. According to Medinah’s website, 55 million tourists visit the Mag Mile annually.
However, the Medinah Temple wasn’t initially earmarked as Bally’s temporary casino host site. Bally’s was going to build the temporary casino on the same site where the permanent casino will be built in River West. But officials worried that traffic would be too dense during construction of Bally’s $1.7 billion casino, so former Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot made a last-second audible to move the betting action to Medinah Temple.
Bally’s long-term casino will open in 2026. Until then, Medinah Temple is the place to go for casino gaming in the Windy City.
No firm timetable is in place for Medinah Temple casino’s grand opening. But Bally’s and city officials have previously mentioned this summer as a target date to begin welcoming patrons.