51-53 Main Street,
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Styles: Streamline Moderne
Previous Names: Varsity Theater, Rex Theater, Encore Theater
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.
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