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On Wednesday June 9, 2010, the Champaign Park District voted to remove the RKO neon marquee from the 1940s and construct a rectangular marquee with neon (similar to the left hand drawing in the link above). This decision went against public opinion and the opinion of historic preservation professionals in Champaign, in Illinois, and at the national level.
That’s my photograph. It must have been my comment that made Chuck think that. There’s little information about either the Empress or the Liberty theaters in Honolulu. And the address above, leads right to the New Life Church. I’m guessing the Liberty Theater was across the street from the Empress and is now a parking lot.
The Massac Theater made the Landmarks Illinois 10 Most Endangered Historic Places List:
The Champaign Historic Preservation Commission “emphatically” advised against replacing the Virginia Theater’s marquee with a replica of the original at their meeting on April 1, 2010. The final decision will still be made at the Park District board meeting on April 14, 2010.
Reinstalling the marquee on a different theater flies in the face of historic preservation. Not only does it remove something that is important to the history and context of the Virginia, but it adds something to another theater that was never there in the first place.
I can give an entire list of theaters with non-original marquees, where no one would ever think of demolishing the marquees that currently exist starting with the Chicago Theater.
The plans that the Park District submitted to the City have the flat canopy style that is depicted in the photo (submitted by Julia) re-created except for the fact that the plans that were submitted include an LED screen. It was only after the news broke of the planned demolition that the Champaign Park Director stated that they had no plans for a LED screen; however, the Park District still has not submitted any new plans without the LED scree to the city for approval.
I was the one that first started using the term “false” on my Flickr photostream. That comes right out of the Secretary of Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation:
The historic character of a property will be retained and preserved. The removal of distinctive materials or alteration of features, spaces, and spatial relationships that characterize a property will be avoided.
Each property will be recognized as a physical record of its time, place, and use. Changes that create a false sense of historical development, such as adding conjectural features or elements from other historic properties, will not be undertaken.
Changes to a property that have acquired historic significance in their own right will be retained and preserved.
Distinctive materials, features, finishes, and construction techniques or examples of craftsmanship that characterize a property will be preserved.
Deteriorated historic features will be repaired rather than replaced. Where the severity of deterioration requires replacement of a distinctive feature, the new feature will match the old in design, color, texture, and, where possible, materials. Replacement of missing features will be substantiated by documentary and physical evidence.
New additions, exterior alterations, or related new construction will not destroy historic materials, features, and spatial relationships that characterize the property. The new work shall be differentiated from the old and will be compatible with the historic materials, features, size, scale and proportion, and massing to protect the integrity of the property and its environment.
Re-creating a marquee that only existed for less than one-third of the history of the theater is not historic preservation. It’s historic re-creation. The Standards are very clear on this. I find it ironic that the Park District wants to destroy a major part of Champaign history in the year that the city turns 150 years old.
Hopefully the Champaign Park District will actually come to their senses and restore the existing marquee instead of persuing this idea of false restoration. It’s entirely conceivable that the existing marquee dates back to 1929 when RKO purchased the theater and wired it for sound. No one knows. There’s only one photograph of the original marquee and so far the oldest photograph of the existing marquee dates to 1947.