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 10 comments)

VegasBill on August 5, 2007 at 10:32 pm

My name is Bill Johnson and I live in Las Vegas. I spent my youth working at the Gem Theater in Cairo, Illinois. The Gem Theater’s name was never changed to the Lincoln. The Rodgers Theater, across the street from the Gem, was changed to the Lincoln Theater after the Opera House on Commercial burnt down. The Opera House was the theater for the blacks. The Rodgers family decided to give the blacks the Lincoln Theater. The Cairo Elks Club now occupies that building. The Gem Theater is still across the street, vacant and going to ruin. Just to keep the record straight.

bbrown1 on August 7, 2007 at 2:38 am

In the mid 1980’s, the Gem Theatre’s lobby was briefly opened as a video store, and one of the workers there let me take a look in at the auditorium. The seats had all been removed, but the huge screen was still intact. After the video store closed, the building has remained empty. The city of Cairo purchased the theater in 1995 with the intent to renovate it, but about all they have managed to do to this point is to restore the marquee.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on May 8, 2010 at 9:17 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 22, 2011 at 2:10 am

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 11:27 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 28, 2011 at 1:10 am

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 11:06 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.

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