Watseka Theatre

218 E. Walnut Street,
Watseka, IL 60970

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TCI's Mitchell Karduna, Comedian Ralphie May & Watseka Theatre's Chuck Gomez

Louis Skidmore (1897-1962), the architect for the John Hancock Center and the Sears Tower in Chicago, designed this Art Deco style movie house on Walnut Street, next to the Odd Fellows Building. It opened in 1931, but started to fall on hard times in the 1960’s and early-1970’s. Those hard times forced its closing in 1998.

Former music teacher Charles Gomez purchased the theatre in the spring of 2007. Gomez used original blueprints to return the theatre’s original appearance, though sometimes using more affordable materials. The theatre will be used for live performances.

The Watseka Theatre/Iroquois Performing Arts Center had a New Years Eve 2007 grand re-opening gala with musical acts and a dinner. The building has a new bar, cafe, lounge and banquet room.

Originally seating 660 and later seating 580, the Watseka Theatre now seats 425 and has a stage. The theatre features hand painted murals, brass and frosted glass chandeliers with matching wall sconces, terrazzo floors and stairways, an original black marble ticket booth, and a neon marquee from the golden age of entertainment.

Contributed by Watseka Theatre, Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 17 comments)

Ret. AKC (NAC) CCC Bob Jensen, Manteno, Illinois
Ret. AKC (NAC) CCC Bob Jensen, Manteno, Illinois on January 3, 2008 at 6:13 pm

Nice article about the theater in the December 28, 2007 Kankakee, Illinois, Daily Journal
View link

“Gee Dad, it was a WurliTzer!”

Ret. AKC (NAC) CCC Bob Jensen, Manteno, Illinois
Ret. AKC (NAC) CCC Bob Jensen, Manteno, Illinois on January 5, 2008 at 9:41 pm

Well as you know if you now click the above you now can no longer read the article or see the photos. I don’t really expect anyone to subscribe to the Journal just to read this one article. I guess there must be some some way to scan the article and photos, but I don’t know how to do that so I will just type it out. Is that legal? My typing isn’t the greatest, sorry for any mistakes, wish we had spell check. Sorry about the photos.
From the Kankakee, Illinois, Daily Journal, Friday, December 28,2007

Local couple restores an art deco theater

Watseka—On New Year’s Eve, when the restored Watseka Theatre will reopen to the public after nine years, guests won’t get popcorn and a movie.

Instead they will get a look at what a former Cissna Park music teacher has been daydreaming about for 30 years—a hub for art and culture.

That former teacher, Chuck Gormez, and Debra Liddell, a dentist, will reopen The Watseka Theatre not as a movie house, but as a performing arts center available to rent.

The 1931 structure, which Gomez called an art deco treasure, is much more than a theater now. The building has a new bar, cafe, lounge and banquet room complete with closed-circuit television to watch the acts next door.

So far, the only other event (besides the New Year’s Eve Party) nailed down is a March 29 (2008) benefit by the Iroquois County Historical Society that will feature a singing act called the Sweethearts of Branson, Mo. But Gomez says that many local organizations are interested in bringing performers to Watseka or in using the building for their own dances, concerts and recitals.

The restoration has even attracted the attention of a filmaker who is working on a documentary about the project and will include interviews with local people, Gomez said.

A ‘brutal’ job

Gomez makes a living as a special events producer and produces the Columbia College graduation in Chicago each year. However, he has never restored a theater.

This isn’t just any theater, though. Gomez said that Louis Skidmore (1897-1962), the architect for the Hancock Center and the Sears Tower, designed the building.

It’s also seeped in local history. Gomez has heard stories from local couples who met and fell in love there, and even of a small group of men who pledged to enlist after hearing the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor moments before the movie started.

Liddel and Gomez, who live in Watseka, bought the theater last spring and began cleaning it out. The basement was practecally filled with debris.

“We spent two month just cleaning,” Gomez said, “It was brutal.”

Since then. the theater partners have used “ever contractor in Watseka”

While he had copies of the original blueprints, some elements were too expensive to restore. Take the crowns and sconces inside the theater. The original crowns were made from horsehair and plaster and were mounted atop columns of black-painted brick on either side of the theater. They would have been prohibitively expensive to replace, so FP Fiberglass' Fred Cahoe and Scott Burdick turned out replicas of these and other plaster decor that had fallen victims to water damage.

Cahoe said it was a challenging job because the goal was to make the fiberglass look like plaster, not a smooth, contemporary looking surface. “You want to make sure the flaws are back in it,” said Cahoe. “Plaster doesn’t have a certain design.”

Painting a new era

The theraer has been downsized from more than 600 seats to 425 new, wider theater chairs.

The auditorium originally had a shallow stage in front of the movie screen for vaudeille acts. The theater was built as the movies were eclipsing the older style of live entertainment. In a way, the renovation project is a throwback because the movie screen has been relocated to the rear wall of the stage area opening up a much larger space for singer, dancers, actors and musicians.

Several original murals are also in the process of being redone. Watseka artist Kathy Blunk created an impressionistic vision of the princess Watch-e-kee (after whom Watseka is named) for the lobby. Liddell painted a new Native American warrior to replace the faded one on the right-hand side of the stage. The image has been emlarged to about 20 feet high and is being hung this week. Originally, there was another male on the left hand side of the stage. However, Liddell is replacing him with a female Native American bearing a dream catcher, instead of a weapon.

In the lobby, art deco touches can be seen in the original terazzo floor, original floor-to-ceiling columns and in the original houndstooth crown moulding, which meets a scalloped design around the edge of the ceiling. The lobby color scheme is teal, nougat and rust — an art deco color scheme, according to Gomez.

The houndstooth is reminiscent of arrows, a design element that was present on the sconces and on the valance over the stage. The black vlance had to be mostly reconstructed, although it’s ready to to put up. In addition to arrowheads, it bears images of large water birds native to this area, which migrate in arrow formations.

And while the marquee still awaits transformation into a white-on-black neon sign, Gomez said Monday that 90 percent of the planned restortation will be finshed by New Year’s Eve.

Photo: Both the original chandelier and scoces survive in the lobby of the Watseka Theatre. An even larger, original chandelier hangs in the auditorium.

Photo: Debra Liddell holds up some of the artwork she had hand crafted for the Watseka Theatre.

Photo: Mike Brubach, of Bradley, and Dave Gudeman, of Dave’s Carpentry in Watseka, hang the crowns above the columns in the Watseka Theatre on Monday morning.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, This is CINERAMA!”

mp775 on January 6, 2008 at 8:09 am

Sounds like a first class restoration job; I can’t wait to get down there to check it out.

rocmaven on April 30, 2011 at 11:55 pm

Classic Country Music Legends, Bellamy Brothers in concert @ Watseka Theatre, 218 East Walnut Street, Watseka IL on Friday, July 15, 2011 @ 8:00 PM. The Bellamy Brothers are an American pop and country music duo brothers David Milton Bellamy and Homer Howard Bellamy from Darby, Fl. The duo had considerable musical success in the 1970s and 1980s, starting with the release of their crossover hit “Let Your Love Flow” in 1976, a Number One single on the Billboard Hot 100. Starting in the late 1970s, the Bellamy Brothers found success in country music as well, charting twenty Number One singles and more than fifty hits overall on the country charts. To date, they have released more than fifty albums, primarily on Curb Records. “If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body Would You Hold It Against Me” , “Redneck Girl”; “I Need More Of You”, “Santa Fe”, “Old Hippie”, “Kids of the Baby Boom.”,“Guilty Of The Crime”, “When I’m Away from You”, “Some Broken Hearts” & “Jalepenos” are among their classic hits. The Watseka Theatre is a 1931 beautiful restored 375 seat art deco theatre located 92 miles south of Chicago. The theatre features a gourmet restaurant as well as a full bar. Tickets $25., $35. & $60. are available at the theatre, by phone (815) 993- 6585 or on line at www.watsekatheatre.com .All Ages are admitted to concerts.

rocmaven on May 25, 2011 at 5:41 am

Country music Icon Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder “Treasure Chest Tour” @ Watseka Theatre, 218 East Walnut Street, Watseka, IL on Friday August 26, 2011 @ 7:00 PM. Ricky Skaggs has won 14 Grammy Awards, 8 Country Music Association Awards, 8 ACM Awards, 11 IBMA Awards, 2 Dove Awards & Countless others. In 1982, Ricky was made the youngest member of the Grand Ole Opry at that time. He made his television debut at the age of 7, performing with bluegrass legends Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs on their popular syndicated television show and earning his first paycheck ever for a musical performance. At 15, Ricky became a member of bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley’s backing band, The Clinch Mountain Boys. Ricky and his ace backing band, Kentucky Thunder, have won 8 Instrumental Group of the Year awards from the IBMA. Ricky has had 12 #1 singles on the Billboard Country charts and 12 Top 20 Country albums. Ricky collaborated with the Raconteurs and Ashley Monroe on a Bluegrass-inspired version of the Raconteurs track “Old Enough.” His album, Ricky Skaggs Solo Songs My Dad Loved, released in 2009, was nominated in the Best Traditional Folk Album category for the 2010 GRAMMY awards. Ricky played all of the notes and sang all of the songs on this project. Solo is a musical tribute to the man who caused him to fall in love with musicâ€\"his father. Current album, Mosaic, is a return to a full band sound that mixes elements of Country music with Beatles-esque melody and lyrics that speak to Skaggs’ faith, making “music that is in my head and in my heart,” as Ricky says. It was co-produced by Grammy winning songwriter/producer Gordon Kennedy. In 2010, Mosaic was nominated for two GRAMMY’s in Best Pop/Contemporary Gospel Album & Best Gospel Song categories (for “Return to Sender”). Greatest songs include; “Country Boy”,“Highway 40 Blues”, “I’m Ready To Go”, “Cajun Moon” & “Uncle Pen”. Watseka Theatre is a beautiful 1931 art deco 375 seat venue located 92 miles south of Chicago. The theatre features a gourmet restaurant and full bar. This concert is open to all ages. Tickets $85.,$65.,$40. are on sale at the theatre, by phone (815) 993-6585 or on line www.watsekatheatre.com .
More concerts to be announced next week.

rocmaven on May 27, 2011 at 7:14 pm

Hot Country Music Artist Josh Thompson @ Watseka Theatre Watseka IL will perform in concert on Friday August 5, 2011 @ 7:30PM.
Josh Thompson’s sensational debut CD has produced three top 40 hits for him on the charts: “Beer on the Table”, “Way Out Here” and “Won’t Be Lonely Long”. Come see this great concert at the historic Watseka Theatre Watseka Illinois on Friday August 5, 2011. A native of Cedarburg, Wisconsin, Josh Thompson began pouring concrete with his father at the age of 12, giving him first hand insight about the trials of hard-working men everywhere. After arriving in Nashville in 2005, Thompson instantly began writing and quickly established himself as a country artist on the rise. He received his first major songwriter credit with a song called “Growing Up Is Getting Old” which is the title track of Jason Michael Carroll’s current album. Thompson formed a band and drew in a huge fan base by playing raucous, energetic live shows all over the country. Josh’s raw talent, in both songwriting and performing, caught the attention of hit songwriters and eventually led to a major record deal with Columbia Nashville. Thompson’s blue collar lifestyle influences every song he has written, as he tells his stories with candor, honesty and a good-natured spirit. His debut single, “Beer On The Table,” is one of the most down-to-earth working man’s anthems in years, a look at the dance between work and play, and the hard-won, easy-go nature of money that ties them together. That work ethic, the honesty in his writing and the energy in his performances have combined to make Josh a powerful new voice in country music. His Columbia Nashville debut, Way Out Here, showcases a man who has lived the music he makes. Produced by Michael Knox (Jason Aldean) Way Out Here features 10 songs solely written or cowritten by Josh. Check out www.joshthompsonofficial.com . The Watseka Theatre is a beautiful 1931 restored 375 seat art deco venue. It features a gourmet restaurant and full bar. Watseka is located 92 miles south of Chicago. All ages are admitted. Tickets are $55.,$45.,$35.,$25. available at the theatre, by phone (815) 993-6585 or on line at www.watsekatheatre.com .

DJMitchell on May 11, 2017 at 12:47 am


Back by popular demand. Fifth time at Watseka. Jackyl is an excellent band. Get ready for the wildest rock n roll party you have ever attended. Advance tickets, Doors open 5:30pm for dinner and full bar. showtime 7pm.

DJMitchell on May 11, 2017 at 12:48 am


Southern Rock Legends With multiple gold and platinum albums to their credit, the band had top hits, “So Into You,” “Imaginary Lover,” “Doraville,” “I’m Not Gonna Let It Bother Me Tonight,” “Champagne Jam,” Angel,” “Do It Or Die” and “Spooky.“ Watseka Theatre is a 1931 art deco theatre with a restaurant and full bar. All Ages. Doors Open 5:30pm. Showtime 7pm. Tix on sale at the theatre, charge by phone 815 993 6585 or watsekatheatre.com

DJMitchell on July 29, 2017 at 4:17 pm

Darryl Worley … Oct 13, 2017 @ Watseka Theatre Watseka IL http://www.watsekatheatre.com

Friday, October 13, 2017

Back by popular demand! Country Music Star Darryl Worley returns to Watseka Theatre. Hit songs include “Have You Forgotten”, “I Miss My Friend”, “Sounds Like Life To Me”, “I Just Came Back From A War”, “Awful Beautiful Life”, “A Good Day to Run”, “Tenneesee River Run” & “When You Need My Love”. Watseka Theatre is a beautiful 1931 art deco 375 seat theatre located 92 miles south of Chicago. Doors Open 5:30pm for restaurant and full bar. Showtime 7:00 PM. All Ages. Tix $40. on sale at the theatre, charge by phone 815 993 6585 or watsekatheatre.com

Watseka Theatre 218 East Walnut Street Watseka, IL 60970 Additional Features: Gate Admission, Handicapped Access, Bar, Restaurant, Live Entertainment Hours: Doors Open 5:30pm for dinner & bar; Showtime 7:00pm Admission:$40. Attendance: 375 Phone Number: (815) 993-6585

DJMitchell on September 22, 2017 at 3:28 pm

Hinder / Josh Todd & The Conflict / Wayland … Oct 28, 2017 @ Watseka Theatre Watseka IL http://www.watsekatheatre.com

Great night of Rock! 3 great bands! H I N D E R hot new album “The Reign” with hit single, “Remember Me” plus million selling hits “Lips Of An Angel”, “Better Than Me”, “Without You”, “All American Nightmare”, “Should Have Known Better”, “What Ya Gonna Do”, “Use Me”, “Bliss”, “Up All Night”, “By The Way”, “Thing For You”, “Someday” & “Homecoming Queen”. (Lead Singer of Buckcherry) J O S H T O D D AND THE CONFLICT Amazing new hits “Rain”, & “Year Of The Tiger”. WAYLAND Hits “Get A Little”, “Bloody Sunrise” “Shopping For A Saviour”. Advance Tix on sale now at the theatre, charge by phone 815-993-6585 or www.watsekatheatre.com Doors Open 5:30pm for bar and restaurant. Showtime 7:00 pm. All Ages Show.

Watseka Theatre, 218 East Walnut Street, Watseka, IL 60970 Additional Features:Food, Gate Admission, Handicapped Access Hours:Doors Open 5:30pm for dinner & Bar. Showtime 7pm. Advance Tickets $45.00 Phone Number: (815) 993-6585

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