Ritz Theatre

Oak Street,
Zeigler, IL 62999

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RITZ Theatre; Ziegler, Illinois.

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The Ritz Theatre was one of two theatres (including the earlier Empire Theatre) that served the model city of Zeigler, a coal-mining community in Franklin County in southern Illinois. The city is the home of the Zeigler Coal Company founded in 1901 by Chicagoan Levi Zeigler Leiter, a major donor to Theodore Roosevelt’s presidential campaign. The town of Zeigler was planned with radial streets around a circle a la the national capital with a hope of luring the seat of national government to Zeigler. Eventually, Zeigler became a company town, an armed fortress with gates at the city limits equipped with searchlights and Gatling guns manned by private guards ordered to shoot suspicious interlopers.

The Leiter family finally left in 1910, and by 1926 Zeigler peaked at 7,000 residents and 174 businesses. When coal began to fade as an important fuel, the city’s population began to decline, though over 450 Zeigler men served in the military during the wars.

The Ritz Theatre (listed as being located on Oak Street) was opened in 1936, and closed in 1959. It became a maintainance garage for the city.

Contributed by Lou Rugani

Recent comments (view all 2 comments)

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on May 20, 2013 at 7:16 am

Part of the introduction puzzles me. I don’t see how Pierre L'Enfant, who lived from 1754 to 1825, could have designed a company town in Illinois in 1901. This history of Zeigler says the town was planned by engineer L. V. Rice, working for the Chicago engineering firm Robert W. Hunt & Company.

LouRugani on May 20, 2013 at 4:23 pm

You’re both correct, as some of the historic material I researched seems to be optimistic puffery (Zeigler’s street system seems only to be a basic standard sort of a radial design of a type favored by L'Enfant and others), and other addresses from that same source don’t jibe either. All that’s known for certain is that there were at least two theatres in Zeigler, and the RITZ above seems to adjoin the earlier EMPIRE. Thanks for following through …

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