Del-Van Theatre

411 S. Locust Street,
Delavan, IL 61734

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The Del-Van Theatre was opened in 1938 and operated until into the early-1970’s. In 1973 it began screening adult movies. It finally closed in August 1983. It became a community center, and in 1989 a church took it over and it was demolished.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 4 comments)

adm22 on January 17, 2011 at 7:40 pm

From the late 1970s until it closed sometime in the 1980s the theatre ran xxx movies. They drew an audience from Peoria, Bloomington and Springfield. Their availability on home video I suspect had something to do with the theatres demise.

JonPutnam on March 7, 2015 at 9:49 pm

The Del-Van was a tiny theater (450 seats) located on Locust Street in downtown Delavan, a country town of about 1,800 in Central Illinois.

The theater struggled with low audience turnout in the 1950s and 1960s, at one point even closing its doors for several years. Determined to boost business, co-owner Charles Thomas took note of the tremendous success being enjoyed by a theater in Momence, Illinois – a small town similar to Delavan — that was showing X-rated movies.

On May 23, 1973, the Del-Van unveiled its first X-rated attraction: “The Erotic Adventures of Zorro.” Business surged to near-capacity business almost immediately.

The public outcry in Delavan was equally swift. Many communities across the country were grappling with the sudden presence of pornographic movies in their midst, and the Del-Van’s switch to adult fare coincided with a Supreme Court ruling in Summer 1973 that allowed communities to establish their own standards of decency.

As a result, several of the Del-Van’s films were subpoenaed, and Thomas found himself facing multiple counts of obscenity. At one point the Delavan Police Chief was ordered by the City Council to attend the theater on a nightly basis (!) to determine whether obscene films were being shown, and assistant state’s attorneys from the county were dispatched to the theater with stopwatches to time the onscreen sex scenes.

When “Deep Throat” played at the Del-Van in November 1973, Thomas (along with his sister and brother, who were employees of the theater) was arrested and charged with obscenity. In response, he changed the theater from a commercial business to a private club, and it became “The Del-Van Adult Motion Picture Film Club.” Members were required to pay $2 in annual dues and a $2.50 fee for each viewing.

The legal battles continued. During one two-month period, Charles Thomas was arrested literally every night … however, he always managed to post bond and the movies continued uninterrupted. Frustrated by the court’s apparent inability to keep dirty movies out of Delavan, one resident even resorted to cutting the theater’s electrical lines.

In 1981, Thomas bought the Morton Cinema in nearby Morton, Illinois, and began showing X-rated movies there as well – meaning that, with the Del-Van still in operation, he now found himself facing fierce opposition on two fronts.

Morton officials were able to close down the Morton Cinema in early 1983, after less than two years, and reinstate “family” movies. Inspired by this success, a Delavan minister joined forces with with the Delavan City Council and organized a fundraising effort to prosecute Thomas – and after ten years of legal wranglings, the Del-Van finally closed its doors in August 1983.

The theater sat empty for several years. After Charles Thomas’ death of AIDS in 1986 (at age 45), his parents inherited the building and donated it to the city as a community center. It fulfilled that function for about two years before being purchased by a neighboring church in 1989 and demolished.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on May 7, 2018 at 6:05 pm

American Classic Images has a photo of the Del-Van Theatre dated March, 1985.

The adjacent building to the right of the theater in the photo is probably a narrow, two-story brick building that is still standing on the west side of the 400 block of Locust Street, just north of a parking lot for a church. On the other side of the theater was an ornate building that I don’t see anywhere on Locust Street. Both it and the theater were probably demolished for the church’s parking lot.

Konrad Schiecke’s Historic Movie Theatres in Illinois, 1883–1960 says that the Del-Van Theatre opened in 1938.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on May 7, 2018 at 7:41 pm

A bit more history of this theater appeared in an item in Boxoffice of November 28, 1966 which said that the house was slated to be closed on December 1. Manager Charles Thomas had reopened the house on February 23, 1962. For parts of 1960 and 1961, the Del-Van had been operated by the Delavan Better Business Club.

Edson Hart, The owner of the theater, had acquired it in 1941 and operated it for fifteen years. Closed for four years starting in 1956, the Del-Van never got wide-screen equipment until Thomas had it installed after taking over in 1962.

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