Smile Politely

Check out the old Illini Theater marquee

Back in October 2019, it was announced that The Venue CU would be taking over the spaces vacated by 51 Main and Memphis on Main. Construction has been ongoing at the space as the new venue has its eyes set on a Spring 2020 open.

Earlier today, we were tipped off by J. Matthis Helmick of Plant Mode as he posted about the marquee, which was being stripped, revealing the letters on the former Illini Theater marquee. Pretty neat. Before it was the Illini Theater starting in 1948, it was the Varsity Theater.

Here’s a quick synopsis of its history from Cinema Treasures:

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.

Image: A view of the front of the building at 51/55 Main Street in Downtown Champaign, landscape photo taken from across the street, showcasing the marquee of The Venue 51. Photo by Seth Fein

Executive Editor

More Articles