Gem Theatre

224 8th Street,
Cairo, IL 62914

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JimMitchell on July 9, 2019 at 8:39 pm

An exterior photo of the forlorn Gem is included in a chapter on Cairo in the book, “Dignity: Seeking Respect in Back Row America” by Chris Arnade.

Matt Lambros
Matt Lambros on January 26, 2018 at 12:30 pm

I recently visited the Gem. Check out some photographs and a short write up at After the Final Curtain.

DavidZornig on May 31, 2017 at 5:39 am

Article about Cairo with one photo of the Gem Theatre in the background.

JAYJay on November 23, 2016 at 11:59 am

Buying and or restoring any business in Cairo Would be like throwing your $$$$ in the river there. It’s a ghost town…. run by gangs.

Kynthiaalice on July 14, 2015 at 12:03 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.

memaw5 on February 10, 2015 at 11:41 pm

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.

ballen270 on October 13, 2012 at 3:06 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.

kschneiderstl on November 27, 2011 at 5:10 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.

dplomin1954 on May 7, 2011 at 3:27 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?

bbrown1 on February 21, 2011 at 6:10 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.)

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on May 8, 2010 at 1:17 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 August 6, 2007 at 6:38 pm

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.

VegasBill on August 5, 2007 at 2:32 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.