Rodgers Theatre In Danger

posted by Ross Melnick on July 1, 2005 at 6:56 am

ANNA, IL — The following email was sent by Kurt Petrich:

“I am writing you today to ask for your assistance in preserving one of Anna’s most prized historic buildings, the Rodgers Theatre. The Rodgers is in danger of being razed at taxpayers expense for someone elses personal gain. There are councilmembers that are bending to the every whim of two local business owners and are completely ignoring the historic value of our building. This letter is to inform you of the importance of preserving the Rodgers Theatre.

To understand our small theatre’s importance, we must first understand its creator. Isaac Walter Rodgers was born just north of us near Neoga, IL in 1875. He was born with show-business in his blood and started his career early in his life traveling the Midwest with a phonograph machine. He opened his first movie house in New Orleans in 1896 where he charged 10 cent admission and the films were only about a minute long. He then purchased a gas powered projector and again traveled the Midwest showing his films at opera houses, churches, schools, or wherever else he could darken the house. Rodgers was the first man to try and trade films with other exhibitors, although he was laughed at and told that moving pictures were a “passing fancy” and that nothing would be heard of them in years to come.

Rodgers proved them wrong and as time went by, films became longer and even more popular. Theatres were opening up all over the world and the same held true for Anna. After a fire destroyed the building, Rodgers tore down the Lyric Theatre in 1937. The Rodgers Theatre replaced it, opening February 1938 and at the time was the finest theatre in Southern Illinois. As Rodgers opened up more and more theatres across Southern Illinois and Southeast Missouri, he never forgot about Anna. The Anna Drive-In Theatre was opened in 1953 and was not only the only Drive-In theatre in Union County but also the only drive-in theatre in the whole Rodgers chain.

In an article written in Moving Picture World dated December 16th, 1922, they list I.W. Rodgers as one of the top three most important exhibitors in the United States. Not only was Rodgers the sole owner of almost every theatre in Southern Illinois and Southeast Missouri, he was a pioneer in the theatre business. Effort needs to be put into preserving one of the last surviving of his theatres. I understand the theatre has changed hands many times over the years and regular maintenance was not performed on the building leading to its current condition today. I also feel its most recent owner destroyed many important details of the exterior of the building and restoration is needed now more than ever.

I am attending the July 6th council meeting to propose that a non-profit group be created to take ownership of the theatre. Such a group could work with the city to provide a safe and beautiful theatre that we could all be proud of. Im sure you understand the importance of a community theatre, but this project will be next to impossible with the city constantly threatening demoliton of our theatre. If you have the time, please take a few minutes and write our city council and let them know how important our historic theatre and the preforming arts are to our community. I have included my contact information below and would love a chance to speak with you on this subject.

Kurt Petrich"

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Comments (7)

melders on July 1, 2005 at 10:40 pm

I am from the Southern Illinois area, and while I would love to see the Rodgers saved, it seems to me that this preservation effort should have started over a year ago. The city is so determined to destroy this theater that nothing will stop them. I don’t even think that an owner with the money and will to rebuild this theater would be able to stop the city. The current owner tried hard to prevent the demolision and restore the theater. The city was so determined to raze the building, the took him to court before he could even finish restoration plans. He couldn’t get money for restoration because everyone knew the buildings fate was sealed by the city.

melders on July 1, 2005 at 10:41 pm

I want to wish you the best of luck, and I hope that the council will listen to your proposal and considered your idea. I also want to warn you though, don’t get your hopes up.

John Coles
John Coles on July 6, 2005 at 12:21 pm

I wish you good luck with the Rodgers Theatre. You will need a lot of community support. I mean A LOT! My personal experience in Charleston, South Carolina, is that, once the city makes up its mind to support a local developer, you’re fighting a lost cause. I wish this were not true but I have the experience to prove it. I’ve worked with “Save the …” groups here twice. Once, we had partial success in saving the most significant visual features of the Riviera Theater (1938) but no luck saving the wonderful Garden Theatre (1918) from becoming an “Urban Outfitters.” Yell as loud as you can and don’t give up until the wrecking crew arrives.

melders on July 6, 2005 at 10:51 pm

Unfortunetly the wrecking crew is set to arrive at this theater by the end of the summer.

Troemelsp on August 6, 2005 at 11:57 am

Is there anything inside the theater that can be taken out to at least preserve something of the theater?
Including sound system parts?

melders on September 15, 2005 at 9:27 am

No, the whole interior was destroyed because of a leaky roof. The only thing that could be preserved is the marquee out front.

melders on September 19, 2005 at 11:03 pm

Also much of the actual movie equipment, such as projectors and sound systems, was probably removed by Kerasotas. The company has a history of doing such things, so it wouldn’t suprise me if they did it here.

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