Illini Theater

51-53 Main Street,
Champaign, IL 61820

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Additional Info

Functions: Bar, Live Performances

Styles: Streamline Moderne

Previous Names: Varsity Theater, Rex Theater, Encore Theater

Nearby Theaters

The Illini Theatre in the 60's and my father (Richard) at the door.

Opened in 1906, the Varsity Theater was the first nickelodeon in operation in Champaign. In the late-1920’s, it began showing sound films.

In 1943, the Varsity Theater was extensively remodeled (and renamed the Rex Theater), as a 330-seat Art Moderne style theater. It featured new projection equipment, new leather seating, air-conditioning and a cream and blue color scheme in the auditorium. The Rex Theater was advertised as “completely fireproof” when it reopened with the Sonia Henie film “Iceland”.

In 1948, the theater received another new name, the Illini Theater. A decade later, the Illini Theater was, along with the Park Theater (now the recently shuttered New Art), acquired by the Art Theatre Guild, which began a policy of art and foreign fare at both theaters.

For a brief period (1963-66), the Illini Theater became the Encore Theater, operating as a revival house. In 1966, the theater returned to its former name, the Illini Theater, and two years later, began screening adult features, along with the New Art Theater (at the time called simply the Art Theater).

The Illini Theater was shuttered in 1983, after nearly fifteen years as an adult theater. Four years later, the Illini Theater was purchased by a church, and it continued to serve in this capacity until 1997, when the church moved out. Since then the building has been renovated and remodeled and operates as a bar, known as the Highdive Club, featuring live music.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 6 comments)

ewatkins3 on January 14, 2004 at 3:04 pm

This is now a bar and very popular venue called the High Dive, with a bar and seating area in the west half of the building and the stage and dancing area in the east.

spectrum on March 9, 2009 at 3:44 pm

Their website has some good virtual tours of the various interior spaces. The original ornate pressed-tin ceiling is still intact. It was a fairly long and narrow theater. The triangular marquee is still there, redecorated. The rest of the original decorations are all gone, all new elements and some bare brick. It’s quite a fancy place now.

kencmcintyre on March 18, 2010 at 10:31 pm

Interesting b&w shot from the fifties:

rechols on November 26, 2010 at 11:08 am

Interesting photos.
I remember passing that sad little theater a few times in the 70s when I was in
grad school at the Uof I. Funny, in a year and a half, I only made it to downtown
Champaign two or three times.
Ken MC – thanks for the photo. Looking at those cars though, I’d say that one
was taken in the 50s, not the 60s.

seymourcox on May 6, 2011 at 9:24 pm

This interesting video tells the history and shows rare photos of the Illini Theatre;
View link

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