Gem Theatre

224 Eighth Street,
Cairo, IL 62914

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Gem Theatre ... Cairo Illinois

Viewing: Photo | Street View

The Gem opened its doors in 1910, and seated 685.

A fire in 1934 completely gutted the theater, and it was rebuilt two years later in Art Deco style, including a new, elegant marquee.

The Gem continued to operate for nearly another half century, before it was closed in 1978.

The theater today sits vacant, having fallen into serious disrepair.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 12 comments)

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on May 8, 2010 at 3:17 am

An article in Boxoffice of January 16, 1967, gives a somewhat different history of the Gem than that currently presented here. According to Bill Griffin (the subject of the article, and former assistant manager of the old Gem and manager of its replacement) the original Gem did not burn down, but was demolished to make way for the new Gem. It was the new Gem which suffered the fire.

Although the Boxoffice item says that Griffin watched “…the beautiful new Gem Theatre burn to the ground,” the facade that survives today doesn’t look like anything that would have been put up in the 1930s. My guess would be that the fire only gutted the theater and it was rebuilt within the old walls. Griffin arrived in Cairo in December, 1926, so the original Gem was demolished after that. My guess, judging from the architectural style of the newer building, is that the ill-fated second Gem was built in the late 1920s.

bbrown1 on February 21, 2011 at 8:10 pm

At the link below is a photo of the Gem Theater. Judging from the movie showing on the marquee, FORTY GUNS starring Barry Sullivan and Barbara Stanwyck, I believe the photo is from 1957. In the background on the opposite side of the street, may be the marquee for the Lincoln Theater, though I cannot make it out for sure:

View link

(If link goes to “photos” page, the 1957 photo is in lower left hand corner, and you can click photo to enlarge it. There are also some more recent photos of the Gem on the page.)

dplomin1954 on May 7, 2011 at 5:27 pm

Wow. When you see all the cars and all the occupied storefronts back then compared to today you wonder how many people are left to revive this town?

kschneiderstl on November 27, 2011 at 7:10 pm

Note that in the 1986 photo there is a smaller sign under the marquee that says Gem Video. Must have operated as a video store for some time after closing as a theatre.

ballen270 on October 13, 2012 at 5:06 pm

I went in this building a few years ago with one of the city officials there with me. I was thinking of buying it because the lobby looked in such great shape and I thought maybe the rest was in that condition also. The auditorium is in bad shape I mean terrible. They might as well tear it down.

memaw5 on February 11, 2015 at 1:41 am

I remember going there when I was a child. My dad worked on the seats years ago. He reupholstered them and painted the metal frames. The cloth was red to match the red carpet on the floor up front.The frames were painted white. I remembered he worked in a back room to the left side of the screen which had a exit sign above the door entrance. My brothers and I got to sit on the front roll close to the exit entrance and watched our first movie. One of my dads brothers, my mother and two of my brothers would sometimes go and help dad tear down the seats and get them ready to be painted and covered. There was a lot of hours and days spent there to get this job finished. There was a picture taken of him standing in the middle roll section after the job was finished. I was told that the theather was going to be a tourist place and to be fixed up the picture was suppose to have been place in the front part to show what the seating looked like at one time. I do not know if it is still there or not. We did have another one but do not know if any of my brothers kept it or not. My dad said that the seats were sold to someone down south, he told me where but i can not remember. AS I got older I was able to enjoy going to the movies before it closed. My father is no longer with us, but the memories will always be. He did a wonderful job.

Kynthiaalice on July 14, 2015 at 2:03 pm

I have recently returned to Las Vegas from Cairo after attending my best friends wedding in Kuttawa KY. I saw the Gem, and got a nice tour of Cairo. I know the inside of the theater is a disaster, but I have the construction education and experience. I really think if I can get possession of that old beauty, she can be restored. Im sure the flood of 2011 caused a bunch of damage, but history deserves to live on.

I know it is a lot more work than two people can handle, but there are good people in Cairo, decent hardworking people with pride.

Cairo could use a shot in the arm financially, no theater is going to do that, but by building up the historic area of downtown and attracting other businesses, like legitimate call centers, mom and pop retail outlets, this town could be a diamond just waiting a polishing.

Im not looking to get rich, I have had my moment in the sun, but this is the kind of project where I can give back.

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