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 could originally seat over 700, and cost around $300,000 to construct. The theater was actually a reuse of two existing buildings, on Green Street, which were entirely reconstructed to house the theater as well as office and retail space on the second floor.
The color scheme inside the auditorium (as well as of the theater’s facade) was originally orange and blue, the colors of the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. The Co-Ed featured an elaborate canopy marquee illuminated with neon in rainbow colors. A fountain once decorated the main lobby and the theater was air-conditioned.
The Co-Ed 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 theaters 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 40s, the Co-Ed has switched from first-run fare to second-run, while new blockbusters would play at Champaign’s larger movie palaces, the Orpheum and the Virginia. Attendance began to slip at the Co-Ed starting in the late 40s into the 50s with the growing popularity of television, so like many struggling theaters around the country, the management of the Co-Ed turned to gimmicks to try to draw in new audiences. In the Co-Ed’s case, it was CinemaScope (with stereophonic sound), installed in 1954, but to little success. Four years later, Alger Brothers closed the theater.
In the fall of 1958, just months after it closed, the Co-Ed (as well as another closed former Alger house, the Princess) 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 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 theater’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 in 1978, starting with “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”, appealing to the city’s large student population. In the early 80s, other “midnight movies” at the Co-Ed included “Pink Flamingos” and the first “Friday the 13th”.
In 1978, the Co-Ed was triplexed, followed a year later by its conversion into a quad.
By the early 80s, 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 became part of (as did other area houses like the Virginia and Thunderbird). While the opening of the Savoy 14 and other nearby multi-and-megaplexes in the area hurt the Co-Ed’s attendance, the theater’s eclectic mix of first-run features and “midnight movies” helped it survive through most of the 90s (a fifth auditorium was tacked on in 1993).
When the Co-Ed was shuttered in 1999, it was Champaign’s longest continuously-operating movie house. A year later, the theater was razed and replaced by a luxury apartment building.
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