Varsity Theatre

1216 W. Main Street,
Peoria, IL 61606

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Additional Info

Previously operated by: Kerasotes Theatres

Architects: J. Fletcher Lankton

Styles: Streamline Moderne

Nearby Theaters

Circa 1941 photo credit Peoria Public Library.

The Varsity Theatre opened in 1939, a conversion of a former garage. It was located on W. Main Street near N. Underhill Street. From the time it opened the Varsity Theatre was operated by Kerasotes Theatres. On April 5, 1985 they convert ed the theatre into a twin and it operated into the late-1980’s. Not long after closing, the Varsity Theatre was razed.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 18 comments)

kencmcintyre on December 2, 2008 at 6:46 pm

Here’s a whopper. I’ve never been to Memphis, but it looks amazingly like San Francisco:

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on October 29, 2009 at 1:44 am

Boxoffice of November 5, 1938, ran an item saying that George Kerasotes was planning to build a theater called the Varsity in Peoria. The Varsity was being designed by one of Peoria’s leading architects, J. Fletcher Lankton.

A photo of the foyer of the Varsity appeared on the cover of the Modern Theatre section of Boxoffice for March 30, 1940. The Varsity was located in an existing building, formerly a garage, which was extensively altered to serve as a theater.

JeffCarlson on January 21, 2010 at 5:25 pm

Here’s a link to a photo of the Varsity:

View link

KelliL on March 31, 2013 at 10:14 am

I liked the upstairs theater that was a balcony. Wish we still had these! I saw Turner & Hooch, Soul Man, and many others here. Avanti’s was next door which is now across the street.

JFY_Montclair_VA on April 5, 2013 at 3:26 pm

I worked at the Varsity in the summer of 1976. At that time, there was a single screen, and the balcony was never, but never open. Only staff were allowed upstairs. We ran mostly soft-core porn, with an occasional blaxploitation feature. I remember that “Debbie Does Dallas” had been altered, with a black bar across the bottom 20% of the screen during the more pornographic scenes. The blaxploitation films were a rare addition to our scheduled films.

Our patron mix was interesting. We had the regulars, for porn features, and the blaxploitation shows brought in “ladies of the evening” and their “employers.” It was quite an experience to see a very elaborately dressed young man, complete with a feather in his hat, escorting 5 or 6 scantily clad young women! I used to sit in the box office, watching, to use the current vernacular, “pimped out rides” cruising past.

The staff members recognized most of our regular, porn patrons, so although our jobs required that we check IDs for verification of age (18), it was rarely necessary. One of our regulars was an on-duty police officer, who ostensibly came in to verify there were no underage patrons. We found it interesting that, over the course of the movie’s run (a week), he’d manage to see the entire film. He had a partner who always waited in the car — a K-9 unit.

As the previous poster has noted, Avanti’s was nearby. Many an evening saw staff members bring in an order of pizza bread (still a wonderful treat), sit in the balcony to eat it, and gaze out over the heads of the patrons who preferred not to be seen there. No patron ever complained about the aroma that had to be wafting down to them. All in all, it was an educational and fun experience for a naive young woman.

DavidZornig on July 13, 2016 at 4:29 pm

1939 photo added, photo credit Peoria Public Library.

DavidZornig on July 13, 2016 at 5:45 pm

Circa 1941 photo added, photo credit Peoria Public Library.

rivest266 on March 1, 2018 at 4:22 pm

2 screens on April 5th, 1985. Grand opening ad in the photo section.

DavidZornig on April 6, 2018 at 5:41 pm

1939 Grand Opening photo added courtesy of Frank Larkin, via Local History Collection, Peoria Public Library.

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