Art Theatre

126 W. Church Street,
Champaign, IL 61820

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Art Theatre

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The Park Theatre, as it was originally known, was opened in late 1913 by a local businessman, B. H. Cooper, in downtown Champaign.

However, the Park Theatre didn’t have it’s ‘official’ grand opening until several months later, when a pipe organ was installed to accompany the epic spectacle, “The Last Days of Pompeii”.

In 1929, the Park Theatre began to show sound films, and not long after, Cooper sold the theater to the LaSalle-based Alger Theatres chain, who ran the Park Theatre as a ‘poor cousin’ to Champaign’s two largest and much more ornate theaters, the Orpheum Theatre and the Virginia Theatre.

From the late-1940’s on, it would mostly screen B-grade Westerns and comedies. The Park Theatre was closed in 1958.

The Art Theater Guild reopened the Park later the same year, renaming it the Art Theatre, to put the focus on the films which would now be shown there — foreign and industrial features, the first being “The Red and the Black”.

For another decade, the Art Theatre would be the premiere house in the Champaign-Urbana area for alternative fare, including an Ingmar Bergman festival, revivals of such classics as “Citizen Kane” and “Beat the Devil” and, in 1967, a series called ‘Underground Cinema’ which featured avant-garde works by Andy Warhol, Maya Deren and Bruce Connor on Friday and Saturday nights.

Urbana-native Roger Ebert would call the Art Theatre the place he ‘learned about the art of film’.

However, by 1969, the theater’s ownership switched to adult films. The Art Theatre remained a porn house until it closed in 1986.

On New Years' Day 1987, the Art Theatre was bought by John Manley, Ron Epple and Tom Angelica who renovated the run-down theater and reopened it as a venue once again for foreign and art features. The partners decided to change the theater’s name to the New Art Theatre, to break with the assocation the Art Theatre had with adult fare for so long.

The New Art closed in February of 2003, but later reopened, once more showing foreign and industrial films. It was then owned and run by the same owners of the historic Lorraine Theatre in Hoopeston.

In December 2009, new owners took over and it was renamed Art Theatre once more

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 38 comments)

kunimo
kunimo on May 17, 2010 at 2:36 am

Hello, all. It has been fascinating to learn about the history of the Art Theater in all of the above posts.

I just discovered the existence of the Art Theater thanks to a lovely photo by nick512 on flickr.

I visited the website and it seems as if the new owner has a lot of wonderful ideas on how to run a theater and develop an audience!

(I worked as a film programmer and movie theater manager for many years in New York City.)

seymourcox
seymourcox on May 6, 2011 at 4:19 pm

This video tells the Art history and shows rare images;
View link

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on April 5, 2012 at 3:30 pm

Night time shot from their website Link

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on July 25, 2012 at 2:15 pm

Article from News-Gazette.com (IL) 7/22/12

Onarga Theater owner Randy Lizzio needs $65,000 to buy a digital projection system to keep his movie house going. But he wouldn’t think of asking a bank for a loan.

After all, the Onarga Theater, which shows first-run movies, barely breaks even.

So like the owner of the Harvest Moon Twin Drive-In Movie Theatre in Gibson City, Lizzio has turned to raising money for a digital fund.

So far, he has brought in $7,700, with about $2,500 of that coming from a taco dinner and a silent auction of donated and new items at the community center in Onarga.

“We’ve got a long way to go. We’re hoping in the process prices will come down a little bit, and hopefully, we’ll be able to meet our goal,” Lizzio said.

Mike Harroun, owner of the Harvest Moon, needs to raise even more, roughly $165,000, for digital projection systems for his two screens as the film industry moves permanently from film to all-digital releases.

So far, his digital fund is about $7,000 — and nearly $80 of that came from three Bloomington girls who gave Harvest Moon the profits from the lemonade stands they put up twice in their town.

“They wanted to keep the drive-in there because they really love coming there,” Harroun said.

Sanford Hess, operator of the Art Theater in Champaign, which turns a profit, but not a big one, knew he couldn’t afford an $80,000 digital projection system. (The costs of the systems vary according to the size of the theater, distance from the screen to projection booth and other factors.)

So last year, he recommended that a community cooperative form and take over the Art. An interim board of directors was established and set a goal of raising $100,000.

The elected co-op board recently reported that it has unofficially reached its goal — unofficial because shares ($68 each) purchased since July 4 have not yet been counted. The board is now taking applicants for a manager and expects to take over the theater in mid-August, four months earlier than expected.

The Art is among a few smaller indie theaters that apparently have survived the digital tsunami. Others haven’t been so lucky.

“It’s like a train that’s been rolling down the tracks for six years,” Hess said. “Everybody saw it coming, and finally it’s here. A lot of theaters will close. It’s unfortunate.”

Indeed, the National Association of Theatre Owners predicts that 20 percent of North American theaters, representing some 10,000 screens, will not convert to digital and will likely disappear from the American landscape.

Already, two area movie houses have shut down: the double-screen Gem in Villa Grove last year and Hoopeston’s Lorraine Theatre in April. Both buildings are for sale.

Soon after the closing of the Lorraine — an art-deco house built in the 1920s for stage events and movies — a Hoopeston resident named Scooter (his legal name) established the Friends of the Historic Lorraine Theatre Facebook page, mainly to gather ideas from the “Cornjerker Nation” on how to preserve it.

‘Unacceptable loss’

Why does saving small-town and indie movie houses matter? Michael Hurley, an owner of two independent theaters in Maine that have already undergone digital conversion, gave an answer to that in a commentary he wrote for Indiewire, published in February:

“I think of the millions of dreams and careers that have taken flight in a movie theater. I know that the economic development power of movie theaters has been profound. People want to live where there are theaters. For the same reasons that every successful city center, mall and downtown works to attract and keep a movie theater, small towns all over the world stand to lose a foundation that has kept them connected to the world. I believe the loss is unacceptable.”

And contrary to what some believe, the U.S. government, unlike some other countries, does not offer grants to help movie houses with digital conversion. Historic theaters in the United States don’t even qualify for tax credits for purchasing digital projection equipment, Hurley wrote.

Hess said people on both coasts are making the decisions that hurt small-town movie houses and drive-ins, mainly by arranging digital-projection system financing agreements that are available to only certain types of theaters.

The Art, Onarga and Harvest Moon do not qualify.

Via the agreements, Hess said, a third party basically buys the digital equipment on behalf of the theater. The third party is paid back by the movie studios over a period of time. The agreements don’t always finance all the costs of digital conversion and carry restrictions and requirements.

So Harroun, Lizzio and Hess have been forced to be creative to try to continue to provide services they feel are important to their communities.

Harroun, for example, believes there is nothing more American than going to a drive-in movie. So far, though, only six of the nearly 400 drive-ins nationwide have been able to convert to digital, he said.

“A lot of mom-and-pop ones — they’re going to close,” he said. “They can’t afford to convert; the money’s not there. I have a tremendous business and can’t afford it.”

Angels needed

While Hess tells people to go to Harvest Moon now because it might not be around much longer, Harroun believes he will raise the money for the digital conversion at the theater he has owned for 23 years.

“I’m positive I’ll keep the drive-in open. I just got to keep everybody on course,” said Harroun, who also owns Angel Services, an automotive repair and sales shop in Onarga, where he lives.

For its digital fund, the Harvest Moon so far has sold T-shirts, and purses and wallets made of film. Harroun also plans a family-friendly concert with various acts, including a headliner, on Sept. 8 at his drive-in 30 miles north of Champaign.

He’s selling $10 chances to win a 1967 Mustang he donated to the cause. The name of the winner will be drawn at the September event.

Like the Onarga and Art, Harvest Moon shows first-run movies seven nights a week. Admission is $6 a head with kids younger than 4 admitted free.

All three theaters also pride themselves on selling concessions at lower prices than the multiplexes; the Onarga Theater even sells fresh, homemade caramel corn.

Lizzio, who with his wife, Cheryl, bought the 215-seat Onarga four years ago, has been taking cues from the JEM Theatre in Harmony, Minn., when it comes to raising money for digital conversion.

The JEM turned to the community; it responded, donating more than $40,000 to the theater’s digital fund.

Lizzio points out that Harmony and Onarga are around the same size. Harmony has 1,020 residents; Onarga, 1,368.

“They’re like a success story; they were trying to raise the money, and they actually did it,” he said. “It’s very possible to do this because it’s been done by other places. Even in this economy.”

However, Lizzio realizes he and others in the same ship are running out of time. Though he’s upgraded his movie house, including the addition of digital-ready sound, he needs a digital projection system. Fox Movies has said it will not produce any 35mm films in 2013 and beyond; theater owners believe other movie studios are roughly on the same track.

So Lizzio, who also owns a sign shop in Onarga and recently started a promotional go-kart business, plans to step up fund-raising efforts in September. One will be the screening of the 1949 Gene Autry movie “Loaded Pistols.”

The single-screen Onarga Theater, which shows first-run movies seven days a week and charges $5 admission with kids 3 and younger admitted free, also sells T-shirts and on-screen advertising. All the profits from those sales go into the theater’s digital fund.

Lizzio said the majority of his fund-raising efforts will continue to be geared toward giving people something for their money, though the theater has received some no-strings-attached donations.

“I’m still positive,” he said. “I guess you have to go out, you can’t just sit back and wait and hope that people will donate. You have to be constantly out there to make more people aware of what you’re trying to do and educate them on what’s going on. A lot of people don’t know.”

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on September 19, 2012 at 7:42 pm

Another long article, this time from Herald-Review.com out of Decatur, Ill.

CHAMPAIGN — In 2013, the small, one-room theater at 126 West Church Street in Champaign will turn 100 years old. In a century of operation, it has outlasted nearly a dozen other historical theaters in the area, with the business changing hands from one owner to another on a regular basis.

But now, just a year shy of the 100th anniversary, patrons of the theater are hoping ownership will never change again as it is rechristened as the publically operated “Art Theater Co-Op.”

The co-op model of ownership came about as a concept put forth by the business’ previous operator, Sanford Hess, who realized after several years at The Art that a new form of support would be needed to keep the theater economically viable. A new board of directors was formed, and they have chosen Urbana resident Austin McCann as new Art Theater Co-Op general manager, with all the responsibilities of choosing films and planning long-term growth. It’s his responsibility to make use of the over $100,000 that was raised through the sale of $65 shares in the business, primarily intended to pay for the theater’s transition to digital projection.

“The interview process was really good and I could tell that we had similar ideas on what a cooperatively owned cinema could be,” said McCann, a Florida native who has spent several years working in the arts in Central Illinois. “I’ve been involved in the fiscal sides of art projects in Champaign-Urbana for the last few years and I needed to know all the aspects of putting together a successful arts project to get this position.”

McCann said patrons of The Art Theater Co-Op could expect a similar experience to the previous Art Theater model, with first-run independent films during the day and cult-classic late-night movie series in the evenings. He does hope to host a greater number of special events at the theater, such as the upcoming “Found Footage Festival” in mid-October.

“I hope that I offer a new level of exciting programming, but generally the theater will continue offering what it has offered,” he said. “One thing I would like to see would be more events that promote conversation between our patrons. We want them to be able to see each other as members of a film-based community that is serious about its support of the co-op and its love of film.”

Other factors, such as ticket prices, look to remain the same for the conceivable future. The theater’s website will undergo an overhaul to promote conversation about events online, and the digital projection system paid for through co-op shares will be installed sometime in 2013.

“We are trying to push back that installation somewhat because when we switch, we will have to move out our film projector because it’s too big,” McCann said. “We want to continue to be able to screen movies on film as well and we’re in the process of determining if that will be possible.”

More than anything, McCann wants to use his first days as the theater’s new general manager to thank those that made the co-op a possibility. He stresses that purchasing a share in the theater conveys “ownership, not membership,” and says the business is working on developing more perks for owners who want to invest in the future of the business. He believes the theater is an important part of the community that deserved to be saved.

“If the public didn’t step up and say ‘we want to keep this art-house cinema in Central Illinois,’ then we wouldn’t be here,” he said. “I think it’s important that there be a place like this here. Film is an important art form, and the arts themselves are an important part of a democratic society. This is a special place where members of the community can be taken out of themselves to explore new possibilities and ideas.”

|421-7973

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on October 4, 2012 at 12:55 pm

Photo of auditorium posted today.

sartana
sartana on September 3, 2013 at 9:34 am

Does anyone know if the Art has switched to Digital projection??

Tim O'Neill
Tim O'Neill on November 4, 2013 at 4:24 am

Yes; the Art has digital.

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on November 4, 2013 at 8:47 am

Art Thearer’s 100th anniversary advertisement added to photo section.

Here are some details about the celebration:

A CENTURY OF CINEMA:
Celebrating 100 Years at the Art Theater
Tues, November 12 from 6:00PM – 10:00PM

6:00PM – From Nickel To Pixel: The Art’s History -The premiere of the new short documentary The Art Lives, produced by Luke Boyce of CU’s Emmy-award winning Shatterglass Studios! -The premiere of the new book The Art Theater: Playing Movies for 100 Years with authors Perry C. Morris, Joseph Muskin, and Audrey Wells! -An “Old Hollywood” costume contest! Dress your best & enter a chance to win The Art Theater: Playing Movies for 100 Years! -Food & drinks!

8:00 PM – TIME TRIP with the Andrew Alden Ensemble A specially-commissioned film/music event Classic shorts ranging from the earliest cinematic experiments to Buster Keaton & the 1960s avant-garde accompanied by the ANDREW ALDEN ENSEMBLE. This program was curated by Austin McCann, our GM, and Andrew Alden.

Tickets are available to the whole event ($20, $15 for co-op owners) and just for TIME TRIP with the Andrew Alden Ensemble ($15). Tickets can be purchased here.

sartana
sartana on November 4, 2013 at 7:59 pm

Unfortunately the new owners of the ART theatre decided to not have John Allen set the EQ for their new digital sound processor so they no longer have an official HPS-4000 sound system. I hope they will reconsider this decision because an HPS-4000 system without the right tunning results in not only poor sound but is a total waste of an extraordinary sound system.

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