250 E. Main Street,
Shelbyville, IL 62565

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Functions: Fraternal Hall

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This theatre appears on the 1922 Sanborn, in a large two-story brick building that was built sometime between 1896 and 1906. This may have originally been architecturally similar to the portion on the corner, which appeared at the same time. Sometime later, it received a Prairie-style facade, perhaps between 1910-20. The 1911 map shows it divided between a saloon and a second-hand store.

Despite being quite large, this was not a success, and the 1933 map shows the building used as a garage. The building today is fair condition, with an ugly bricked-up front. It is used by the Elks.

Contributed by Seth Gaines

Recent comments (view all 3 comments)

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on June 29, 2023 at 4:15 am

In 1924 this house was probably called the Yale Theatre, and it’s likely that it its name was changed by 1926. The June 7 and June 28, 1924 issues of Moving Picture World both mention a house in Shelbyville called the Yale Theatre, recently taken over by P. B. Russell, but the only theaters listed in the town in the 1926 FDY are the 390-seat Playhouse (later to become Boarman’s Roxy) and a 300-seat house called the West End. The same two are still listed in the 1929 Year Book. By 1931 the Playhouse is listed with 424 seats, and the rival house is listed as the West End Lyric, still silent. In 1932 it is the same, though the West End Lyric is listed as both silent and closed. The same listings repeat in 1933, but as the building housed a garage that year it seems likely that the West End Lyric last operated in 1931 as a silent house.

The origin of the Yale is a bit more of a puzzle. A Shelbyville house was operating under that name by January 1918 when, according to a book called Shelby County in the World War, its stage was used for public speeches sponsored by a patriotic organization. The book refers to the Yale as “…the sole public playhouse in Shelbyville….”

The 1914-1914 American Motion Picture Directory lists only two movie houses at Shelbyville, one being the Cozy, which we have identified, and the other being a house called the Rex, which I suppose might have been an indoor replacement for the Rex Airdome. It’s possible that the Yale was the indoor Rex renamed, but I’ve found no other references to either theater.

SethG on June 29, 2023 at 8:13 am

Thanks for all that research. Yale does seem the most likely. Might the West End Lyric be a reopened Cozy? Further west than that, it’s all houses. Even on the 1933 map, the only businesses on W Main further out are two gas stations.

No idea where a replacement Rex might have been, it could have been any storefront, or possibly the first name for this one. The chronology does seem to fit. This could have opened 1912 or 1913 as the Rex, and become the Yale sometime after 1914.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on June 30, 2023 at 1:13 am

It’s certainly a possibility that the West End was the Cozy reopened, but buy the time the name West End shows up the Cozy had been closed for quite some time. This house (which was probably the Yale) at the west end of that little square opposite the courthouse, was still in operation into the early 1920s.

The likelihood that the 300-seat West End and the 300-seat West End Lyric were the same house adds another wrinkle. Shelbyville is in the St. Louis region, and local exhibitors would have been familiar with the West End Lyric Theatre in that city, one of the leading silent era movie houses there from 1914 on. The Shelbyville West End Lyric might well have been named for the one in St. Louis, and not for its position relative to Shelbyville’s other businesses. The original owners might even have been people formerly associated with the St. Louis house.

As for the Yale, I can now confirm that it was in operation under that name at least into 1923, as the January 23 issue of Film Daily noted that the Yale in Shelbyville was owned by the Illmo Amusement Company, who also owned the Yale in Macon, Missouri, and had recently taken over the Main Theatre at Anna, Illinois, and renamed it the Yale to match their other houses.

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