Marion Cultural and Civic Center
800 Tower Square Plaza,
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Marion Cultural and Civic Center (Official)
Previously operated by: Orpheum Circuit
Architects: Samuel W. Bihr, Jr.
Functions: Performing Arts
Previous Names: Orpheum Theatre
Opened in 1922, the Orpheum Theatre sat over 900, and was ornately decorated in a mix of Renaissance and Neo-Classical styles, complete with gold leaf, elaborate plasterwork, and a multicolored terra-cotta facade. The theater was hailed not only for its beauty, but its excellent accoustics, as well. It was the largest of Marion’s movie houses, and the flagship of the “Junior Orpheum” circuit in the far southern Illinois region of Little Egypt.
Not only were vaudeville and movies presented at the Orpheum Theatre, but it was host to many civic events, as well, over the years. By the mid-1950’s, however, the theater was mainly used as a movie house. The Orpheum Theatre was closed in 1971 due to declining attendance, and two years later, was acquired by the City of Marion, which planned on demolishing the historic structure and replacing it with a parking lot.
However, due to public pressure, that plan was nixed in favor of restoring the Orpheum Theatre to its original splendor and converting it into a performing arts venue. A year later, completely by volunteer effort, the former vaudeville and movie house was reborn as the Marion Cultural and Civic Center, which soon became renowed all over Little Egypt and neighboring states as a center of culture, entertainment and civic pride. Featuring everything from appearances by big-name celebrities, to orchestra, dance and, onscreen, classic movie series, the former Orpheum’s stage also was where high school graduation ceremonies took place, as they had over the previous decades.
Also, the high school used the theater’s stage for its musicals, and in 1997, one of the high school musicals, “Bye Bye Birdie”, would prove to be the final performance at the landmark theater. During the early morning hours, of March 10th, 1997, a blaze quickly raced through the Civic Center, and totally gutted the theater, leaving it a smoldering shell after the blaze was put out. The facade of the Orpheum Theatre was salvaged, but the remainder of the theater was razed, and in 2000, it was decided that a new Cultural and Civic Center would be built on the site of the old Orpheum Theatre and a couple of other demolished neighboring structures.
After two years of fund-raising, construction began on the new building, and was completed in 2004. The new, larger venue like its lost namesake (of which its restored 1922 terra-cotta facade became part of), has become once more a center of culture and enjoyment in Marion and the surrounding region.
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