Orpheum Theatre

346 N. Neil Street,
Champaign, IL 61820

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brianbobcat on May 10, 2008 at 12:11 am

I visited this now-museum several times over several years around the turn of the Millennia. My mom is a fan of old buildings, so my dad donated money to the museum for the restoration and expansion, so we traveled there to see what they’ve done. For the first several years, all they had was a small space that used up the area behind the windows paint with faux curtains in the above photos. However, in the last two or so years we went, they had reopened the main entrance below the marquee and with that, had a professional looking admission foyer which then opened up to the 2-story atrium just outside the main auditorium. The balcony stairs and upstairs was completely refurbished but keeping the original materials and designs, basically just new paint. There were safety code improvements, like plexiglass I believe to extend the height of the railings, but they don’t detract from the look. The outdoor space just to the south has also become an outdoor exhibit space, with a fossil hunt and those cool echo sound domes present. Last time I was there, the main auditorium was still fully closed, but they have grand plans for it. The seats have long been removed, but they plan on turning the whole space into museum exhibits. The space is so large though that it will require a lot of funds and hadn’t been touched at all. The woman who showed us around, since we were donors, knew a lot about the physical space, like the changing rooms beneath the stage, and seemed to have a really well placed heart and vision. The museum is definitely aimed at young crowds as my brother and I who were then in our early teens were completely bored by it, but let’s be honest, we weren’t the target audience. I’m curious now as to how much, or little, progress has been made since we were last there.

Either way, what they’ve already accomplished has turned that space back into a thing of beauty and should be a posterchild for other spaces facing the same fate.


Ziggy on October 6, 2006 at 4:23 am

I used to see this theatre from the windows of “The City of New Orleans” when I took the train home for Christmas, and I always wanted to get out and have a look at it. It’s good the building is still in use. Maybe someday it can be a theatre again. It’s not likely that RKO bought the theatre in 1920. The RKO chain didn’t exist until 1929 or so.

PaulWolter on November 26, 2003 at 9:15 pm

In 1915 work began on the Al. Ringling Theatre in Baraboo, Wisconsin which was also designed by Rapp and Rapp. The “Al.” owes a lot to the Orpheum being nearly identical in plan. A greater budger however allowed for more lavish use of ornament including over a dozen handpainted murals and an elaborate terra cotta facade.

If you would like more information on the Al. check out the website at www.alringling.com

Please contact me if you would like to discuss the early works of Rapp and Rapp. Paul