Varsity Theatre

1216 W. Main Street,
Peoria, IL 61606

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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.

rivest266 on March 1, 2018 at 4:22 pm

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

DavidZornig on July 13, 2016 at 5:45 pm

Circa 1941 photo added, photo credit Peoria Public Library.

DavidZornig on July 13, 2016 at 4:29 pm

1939 photo added, photo credit Peoria Public Library.

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.

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.

JeffCarlson on January 21, 2010 at 5:25 pm

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

View link

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.

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:

kencmcintyre on November 30, 2008 at 10:24 am

Looks like Racine, BW. I will check.

Broan on November 30, 2008 at 9:29 am

Couldn’t say where that was, but there was never a Varsity in Chicago. It’s worth noting, however, that this is clearly NOT Chicago. So that Varsity is probably somewhere in the Midwest, perhaps WI or IL.

kencmcintyre on November 30, 2008 at 9:00 am

All the parade photos were in Chicago, according to the caption. Perhaps an AKA for a Chicago theater that’s already been listed.

DavidZornig on November 29, 2008 at 8:36 pm

Well it’s definately not the Evanston Varsity. Too modern looking. Good luck in the hunt.

kencmcintyre on November 29, 2008 at 7:14 pm

This is supposed to be a Varsity Theater in Chicago in 1951. I don’t know where to put this theater as I don’t see any Chicago Varsities. Any help would be appreciated.

JeffCarlson on January 5, 2007 at 5:49 pm

In the Varsity’s last years, the balcony was closed of to create a very small second screening area. I believe this theater went out of business in late ‘87.

Broan on November 3, 2006 at 8:37 pm

Here is a haargis photo.

ABone on February 18, 2006 at 5:32 pm

The Varsity opened in l939 and was the last new theater to open in Peoria until the Fox in 1965. The style was very much art deco. It lasted longer than most single-screen theaters because of its proximity to Bradley University. It was considered sort of a “twin” to the Beverly, opened just 2 years earlier and located on the other side of the “bluff” area of Peoria.