Orpheum Theatre

346 N. Neil Street,
Champaign, IL 61820

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DavidZornig on May 2, 2020 at 8:54 pm

Circa 1930 photo added courtesy Amanda Dickerman Van Ness‎.

JFY_Montclair_VA on April 10, 2013 at 1:18 pm

In the late ‘70s and early '80s, I worked at the Orpheum. I can categorically state that the fare at that time was definitely neither blaxploitation nor adult fare. Our bookings really ran the gamut, from Russ Meyer triple features (kind of porn light, but definitely not crossing the line into true porn), a month-long series of Disney Classics, and even the very long first run of Coal Miner’s Daughter. We usually had very little business, but a few block-buster films per year seemed to keep us, barely, in the black.

Even in a state of marginal disrepair, the theater was quite lovely, showing off its vaudeville roots. However, some systems were badly out of date. The non-working furnace mentioned by a poster above, is a prime example. The heat was supplied by a boiler and it was either OFF or ON. The thermostat was a non-functional joke. So if the auditorium was mostly empty, patrons froze. Busy? They sweltered. Both freezers and sweaters complained, but there was absolutely nothing that the staff could do to make them comfortable.

The projection equipment was in much better repair, but to get to the projection booth required flat shoes, nerves of steel, and strong thighs to get up a narrow, steep, turning,dangerous stairway. Popcorn was popped in the dressing rooms, behind and below the stage, and brought up in plastic bags. No aroma of freshly popped popcorn at this theater!

Having now seen the photos of the dome rehab., I can’t wait to go back to the old Orpheum, and see how pretty she’s become. I just wonder if the workers have found the old ice cream freezer that was walled in. Or managed to eradicate the legions of albino cockroaches…

Broan on February 5, 2013 at 11:29 am


Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on April 5, 2012 at 12:33 pm

How’s the auditorium restoration coming along?

michaelmc99 on December 7, 2011 at 6:24 pm

Was a U of I student from fall 82-Spring 1986. I was THERE the last night that the Orpheum was open. The interior was VERY COOL even in those last years. I recall taking a date to see the movie “Comfort and Joy.” Movie was good, but theater FURNACE was barely working. That’s ONE WAY to get a date close to you !! Love to see the interior once again !!

seymourcox on May 6, 2011 at 1:25 pm

This fun video tells the Orpheum Theatre history and shows interior/exterior pictures;
View link

chapcan on May 7, 2010 at 8:11 am

Seeing Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” for the first time (in the ‘80’s) at the Orpheum was truly exciting; I’m thrilled for the restoration!

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on April 1, 2010 at 9:58 am

That is definitely the reason. They sometimes used the same basic design template on different jobs, with a few customizations to create a unique product. In this case the same basic scheme was used on both the Ringling & the Orpheum.

spectrum on April 1, 2010 at 8:43 am

I posted too soon – according to the museum’s website, they HAVE been doing a lot of renovation in the auditorium during summer 2009 – including repairing and painting the plaster in a historic color theme.

spectrum on April 1, 2010 at 8:42 am

The first link above is of the Ringling Theatre in Baraboo, WI, and the second is of the Orpheum, according to the photo captions. They are remarkably similar, and the Oprheum photo looks very recent. Have they been doing some renovations recently?? (The photos in the Jan 19 post the auditorium looks father tattered.

CSWalczak on January 19, 2010 at 9:53 am

There’s a set of auditorium photos posted on flickr army.arch, of which this is one: http://www.flickr.com/photos/army_arch/3980160358/

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on January 19, 2010 at 8:30 am

There was a good article with a nice photo of the renovated auditorium in the News-Gazette back on or about November 4, 2009, which I just saw a copy of. I can’t seem to find it on their website but it was lovely. They have already hosted one wedding there, even though it’s not finished. I’ll keep trying to find that article and photo, but if anyone else can get it please post it here.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on January 8, 2010 at 3:00 pm

Doesn’t look like it judging by the Orpheum web site. Check it out:


This is where all my info is coming from.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on January 8, 2010 at 2:24 pm

Apparently a fire in a nearby building.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on January 4, 2010 at 9:25 am

There are some press releases on the official web site which indicate that the building was recently damaged, and that the organization feels they may be better off in a building other than the Orpheum.

However, the newest one is a year old, and they are still scheduling events.

kencmcintyre on May 2, 2009 at 2:09 pm

Here are views from the 1960s and from March of this year:

Don Lewis
Don Lewis on August 15, 2008 at 12:31 pm

A 1996 view of the sad and abandoned Orpheum Theatre in Champaign here and here. But it looks as if if someone still loved it. Notice the two small, nicely kept flower gardens in front of the theatre. An enlarged view here and here.

brianbobcat on May 10, 2008 at 12:11 am

I visited this now-museum several times over several years around the turn of the Millennia. My mom is a fan of old buildings, so my dad donated money to the museum for the restoration and expansion, so we traveled there to see what they’ve done. For the first several years, all they had was a small space that used up the area behind the windows paint with faux curtains in the above photos. However, in the last two or so years we went, they had reopened the main entrance below the marquee and with that, had a professional looking admission foyer which then opened up to the 2-story atrium just outside the main auditorium. The balcony stairs and upstairs was completely refurbished but keeping the original materials and designs, basically just new paint. There were safety code improvements, like plexiglass I believe to extend the height of the railings, but they don’t detract from the look. The outdoor space just to the south has also become an outdoor exhibit space, with a fossil hunt and those cool echo sound domes present. Last time I was there, the main auditorium was still fully closed, but they have grand plans for it. The seats have long been removed, but they plan on turning the whole space into museum exhibits. The space is so large though that it will require a lot of funds and hadn’t been touched at all. The woman who showed us around, since we were donors, knew a lot about the physical space, like the changing rooms beneath the stage, and seemed to have a really well placed heart and vision. The museum is definitely aimed at young crowds as my brother and I who were then in our early teens were completely bored by it, but let’s be honest, we weren’t the target audience. I’m curious now as to how much, or little, progress has been made since we were last there.

Either way, what they’ve already accomplished has turned that space back into a thing of beauty and should be a posterchild for other spaces facing the same fate.


Ziggy on October 6, 2006 at 4:23 am

I used to see this theatre from the windows of “The City of New Orleans” when I took the train home for Christmas, and I always wanted to get out and have a look at it. It’s good the building is still in use. Maybe someday it can be a theatre again. It’s not likely that RKO bought the theatre in 1920. The RKO chain didn’t exist until 1929 or so.

PaulWolter on November 26, 2003 at 9:15 pm

In 1915 work began on the Al. Ringling Theatre in Baraboo, Wisconsin which was also designed by Rapp and Rapp. The “Al.” owes a lot to the Orpheum being nearly identical in plan. A greater budger however allowed for more lavish use of ornament including over a dozen handpainted murals and an elaborate terra cotta facade.

If you would like more information on the Al. check out the website at www.alringling.com

Please contact me if you would like to discuss the early works of Rapp and Rapp. Paul