Building Description New Orpheum Theatre, Champaign Illinois
Located in the central business district of downtown Champaign, the New Orpheum Theatre occupies the north end of a row of commercial buildings on what was formerly Hickory Street, in effect anchoring the north end of the business district. This section of Hickory Street was vacated, and has become part of a parking lot which squares off this diagonally set block to N. Neil Street, a major thoroughfare through the city. Just north of the Orpheum, facing Washington Street, is a gas station building dating to the 1920s, which has been remodeled, and is being used for a car rental agency.
Built in 1914, the New Orpheum Theatre is a two-story (main facade) building of Classical Revival style architecture in brick with limestone trim. The facade includes theatre space to the south and storefront spaces to the north, slightly shorter in height. The interior theatre space is French Renaissance and Baroque in style. Structural and historical integrity have been maintained except for minor modifications to the lobby and foyer. On the exterior, the balustrade and cornice were removed when a corrugated aluminum sheathing was added, c. 1967; the entrance received modern aluminum frame doors. The sheathing has been removed and the extant exterior detailing remains in good condition.
The main two-story (west) facade is divided into four bays with the north three bays consisting of storefronts and the south bay containing the theatre entrance. Projecting brick piers separate the storefronts, and are set on stone podiums with small stone bases and side consoles, with stylized capitals of modillions set on end and two small decorative stone blocks below; a small square, carved stone block is set at second story height in each brick pier. The configuration of the original storefronts is intact with each storefront comprised of large plate glass display windows set over a stone bulkhead and recessed single light wood entry doors. The north storefront's entry is set in the center with flanking sash; the inner (southern) storefronts' entries are placed at the north end of the bays. All the storefronts have a three light transom panel, now infilled with wood. A simple sheet metal cornice with panelled frieze is carried over all three bays. A door to the second story is situated between the storefronts and the theatre entrance bay.
The theatre entrance bay is accented by wide rusticated brick and stone piers set above a high stone podium with a shaped stone base and topped with stylized fonic capitals with egg and dart molding and a fluted frieze. The entry to the theatre is set on an angle with a modern ticket booth along the straight north side and three sets of modern aluminum-frame double doors along the inner angle. Originally the doors were set flush with the building plane. The entry cornice is faced with plain aluminum panels.
The second story of the west facade has four similar bays each with a recess containing windows separated by two wood Ionic columns. The north three bays have four one-over-one light. sash (in a single, paired, single sequence); the south theatre entry bay has three sets of paired one-over-one light sash. Both the lower storefront bays and the slightly taller theatre entry bay cornices were removed in 1965; only simple brick parapets with metal coping remain. A large lighted theatre marquee sign projects from the theatre entry bay and states "ORPHEUM" with space below for performance information; a ghost of the letters "RKO" remains above the word "ORPHEUM." The marquee is not original, but dates within the period of significance.
The north facade of the Orpheum Theatre is brick set in six-course common bond. The auditorium section of the facade projects slightly to the north, and is the location for egress routes from the auditorium. These consist of double metal doors (four exits on street level) and two metal platforms with stairs located at the second story level to the east and west of the projection, each with one exit door. The west end of the facade also has an additional exit double door and two single exit doors which provide egress from the main aisle and the end bay storefront. A single window is located on the first story and three windows are located on the second story; all are one-over-one light, and have double header brick arches and header brick sills. A single one-over-one sash is located immediately below the roof in the stage fly-space at the east end.
The rear (east) facade has a double stage door at the south end. A poster frame box is located in the center above a soldier course water table. The upper section of the facade contains a large painted sign "Welcome to the New K Orpheum, Showplace of the Twin Cities, For your Convenience use Walkway to the Box Office." The sign originally read "RKO," with the letters "R" and "O" being painted over presumably when the theatre had a change in ownership. The west two-thirds of the south facade is placed immediately next to the adjacent building. The east third is recessed and contains a double metal door exit and four basement sash (blocked); a large elevated air conditioning unit is located above the recess.
The theatre's entry vestibule has been "modernized" with applied panelling and a drop acoustical ceiling. The original plaster walls and embossed metal ceiling remain, however, behind and above the current decoration. A door to the exterior ticket booth is in the far northwest corner. Two sets of triple solid-panel doors lead from the foyer into the lobby.
The foyer is a rectangular space approximately 22 by 52 feet with a semi-circular curve to the north end wall. It is ringed on three sides by an oval mezzanine level balcony, the underside of which is accented by egg and dart molding. Two large openings lead from the foyer space into the Lower aisle which curves around the auditorium space. The staircase to the upper level is located in the southeast corner and has a very ornate, Spanish influenced, wood and plaster railing. The original enclosed concession stand, now a storage area, is located immediately to the north of the staircase. A modern concession stand occupies the west wall of the lobby. Men's and women's restrooms are located to the north of the foyer with access from the lower aisle.
The mezzanine level of the foyer is divided from the upper aisle and auditorium by a three-centered arcade. A curved wood railing with a wrought iron balustrade circles the oval opening on three sides. The open arcade on the auditorium side is mirrored by a blind arcade on the other three walls. Within the pendentives are plaster medallions ringed with astragals framing portraits of young women and helmut-clad warriors. Above these medallions, encircling the lobby area, runs a full entablature with modillioned cornice and festooned frieze. An office is located to the north of the open mezzanine area with access from the upper aisle. Brightly colored murals, depicting Hollywood and movie themes, were painted on the mezzanine level in the mid-1980s.
Aisles circle the auditorium on both levels. The walls of the aisles are decorated with plain panels. Low-wattage lights are placed low on the inner wall and elaborate exit signs mark emergency egress routes. Double fire doors have been placed on both sides of the lower aisle just beyond the lobby openings. The projection booth is located in the "attic" above the upper aisle. Access is via a narrow wooden stair, located in a small closet to the rear (west) of the south aisle. A lounge and two projection areas are located in this "attic" space.
The dominant decoration of the auditorium consists of giant Corinthian columns, fluted on the lower third and resting on high podiums, which support a heavy ornate entablature. These columns separate the 17 semi-circular loge boxes of the upper "balcony" area. The first loge to the left of the stage is topped by a round arch while its opposite is a blind loge, backed by a shell patterned organ screen which hid the organ pipes. The organ is not extant. These two loge boxes have an open balustrade with pedestals while the remaining boxes have solid rails decorated with a center cartouche with flanking festoons set between rows of swirls; the balustrade is topped by a metal railing. The entries to the boxes are elaborately decorated with foliated drops at the sides of the surround and a "cornice" comprised of a center cartouche and flanking festoons set above egg-and-dart and foliated moldings. Lyres decorate each side of the frieze area.
Below each loge box is an entry from the aisle into the auditorium. Each entry has a Greek key pattern surround topped by a small cornice with dentils above a decorative frieze panel set between brackets and side scroll foliage. The two entries nearest the stage are similar, but have foliated drops instead of the Greek key pattern. The center openings off the main aisle and lobby space are blocked while the two entries which open onto the main auditorium aisles have been reduced to the size of modern fire doors.
The main auditorium entablature has ornate French Renaissance and Baroque ornamentation comprised of egg-and-dart and dentil moldings which merge with shells, laurels, rosettes, and acanthus leaves. The ornamentation was painted with intensely bright colors in the mid-1980s. The auditorium space is covered by a plaster shell dome which is hung from steel roof trusses; its ribs and upper cornice area are accented by decorative plaster work. The center of the ceiling is embellished by a 20-foot diameter metal decorative grill which originally served the natural convection ventilation system.
Three grouped Corinthian columns accent the corners of the stage while a continuation of the entablature forms the "proscenium arch." The stage area is approximately 32 by 60 feet, and is a full 50 feet high. Original wood cat walks, fly grid, and pin rail are extant, as is the original lighting transformer. The area under the stage is divided into dressing rooms with access from the south end of the stage and from the small orchestra pit.
The interiors of the three storefronts consist of simple rectangular spaces. The middle storefront next. to the theatre entry bay is the smallest, with the rear portion occupied by the heating plant for the building. The area over the storefronts was used as a segregated rooming house by early black vaudevillians and has a number of small sleeping rooms and a single bathroom.