614-616 E. Green Street,
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Built in 1938 for the LaSalle, Illinois-based Alger Theaters circuit, the Art Moderne-style Co-Ed Theatre could originally seat over 700, and cost around $300,000 to construct. The theatre was actually a reuse of two existing buildings on Green Street, which were entirely reconstructed to house the theatre as well as office and retail space on the second floor. Architectural firm Monberg & Wagner of Chicago, IL were in charge of the conversion.
The color scheme inside the auditorium (as well as of the theatre’s facade) was originally orange and blue, the colors of the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. The Co-Ed Theatre featured an elaborate canopy marquee illuminated with neon in rainbow colors. A fountain once decorated the main lobby and the theatre was air-conditioned.
The Co-Ed Theatre was not only comfortable and ultra-modern, but had a then-cutting edge Simplex sound system, the only one of its kind at the time in Illinois, outside a couple of Alger theatres in Chicago. Its screen measured 18 by 14 feet.
Opening night was a gala affair, with overflow crowds. On screen, the main feature was Pat O'Brien in “Women Are Like That”, as well as newsreels, a short feature, and a Betty Boop cartoon.
By the early-1940’s, the Co-Ed Theatre has switched from first-run fare to second-run, while new blockbusters would play at Champaign’s larger movie palaces, the Orpheum Theatre and the Virginia Theatre. Attendance began to slip at the Co-Ed Theatre starting in the late-1940’s into the 1950’s with the growing popularity of television, so like many struggling theatres around the country, the management of the Co-Ed Theatre turned to gimmicks to try to draw in new audiences. In the Co-Ed Theatre’s case, it was CinemaScope (with stereophonic sound), installed in 1954, but to little success. Four years later, Alger Brothers closed the theatre.
In the fall of 1958, just months after it closed, the Co-Ed Theatre (as well as another closed former Alger house, the Princess Theatre) was acquired by the Kerasotes circuit, and reopened, returning to first run fare for the first time in over fifteen years. Seven years later, the Co-Ed Theatre was twinned, with the chain now showing first-run features in one auditorium, and art and foreign features in the other. The remodeling project cost over $50,000 and not only modernized the theatre’s appearance, but new projection and sound equipment was also installed during this time.
However, in less than a decade, the original auditorium, the Co-Ed I, went from art movies to adult features, while the newer Co-Ed II auditorium continued to screen first-run fare (and the occasional foreign film). Also, Kerasotes began a “midnight movies” feature at the Co-Ed Theatre in 1978, starting with “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”, appealing to the city’s large student population. In the early-1980’s, other “midnight movies” at the Co-Ed Theatre included “Pink Flamingos” and the first “Friday the 13th”.
In 1978, the Co-Ed Theatre was triplexed, followed a year later by its conversion into a quad.
By the early-1980’s, adult-features were replaced by films which would appeal to college students, mainly comedies and horror films. Foreign and art films eventually disappeared entirely.
In 1985, George Kerasotes formed his own chain apart from his brothers, GKC, which the Co-Ed Theatre became part of (as did other area houses like the Virginia Theatre and Thunderbird Theatre). While the opening of the Savoy 14 and other nearby multi-and-megaplexes in the area hurt the Co-Ed Theatre’s attendance, the theatre’s eclectic mix of first-run features and “midnight movies” helped it survive through most of the 1990’s (a fifth auditorium was tacked on in 1993).
When the Co-Ed Theatre was shuttered in 1999, it was Champaign’s longest continuously-operating movie house. A year later, the theatre was razed and replaced by a luxury apartment building.
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