Egyptian Theatre, DeKalb Illinois
The Egyptian Theatre was designed by architect Elmer F. Behrens. It was the first theatre of Egyptian motif in Illinois. Mr. Behrens (formerly with Rap and Rapp of Chicago) designed theatres in St. Charles, Pekin, Elmhurst and Woodstock, IL.
It was commissioned by the DeKalb Egyptian Theatre, Inc. whose officers were Dale Leifheit and John Miller, DeKalb, and E. A. Lucas and Charles Renick of Woodstock, IL. Plans were ready in September 1928 and contracts were let in November, 1928. Guldbeck-Eckstrom was the general contractor, Swanson Brothers the electrical contractor and T. W. Skelley the heating and plumbing contractor. All of these firms were from DeKalb. Construction was started April 30, 1929. By September, 1929 the furnishings were being installed. All furnishings were new except the balcony seats which were brought from the DeKalb Theatre located on Lincoln Highway in this city. Those seats remain in the theatre.
The 1600-seat theatre was opened on December 10, 1929, and had cost $300,000.00.
The project supervisor for the architect was George Lindquist. Mr. John Halema was assistant to Mr. Behrens and did the renderings. Mr. Talmadge, a professor at the University of Chicago, assisted in the project. Research on the Egyptian motif was done at the Oriental Institute.
Although primarily used as a movie house, the Egyptian Theatre over the years has been the scene of vaudeville productions, organ concerts, Actor's Equity stage productions, rock concerts and has had limited use for local productions (amateur theatre, dance recitals, etc.). John F. Kennedy spoke in this theatre during his campaign for president of the United States.
The Egyptian Theatre is an Art Deco building exhibiting the stylized relief on terra cotta tiles built in the heyday of public entertainment. Its lavish ornamentation follows the Egyptian motif.
Located on a site in the business district of DeKalb, IL the building occupies a site 162 feet by 74 feet without the lobby which is 25 feet wide and 95 feet long.
A description of the building by architect Elmer Behrens tells: "The Egyptian Theatre arouses in one thoughts of the Nile, Sphinx and Pyramids and all better styles of architecture. . . As one sees the exterior he is attracted to the two guardians of this temple flanking each side of a stained glass window in which is depicted the sacred beetle of the Egyptians. The two guardians or Pharohs, are the kings and leaders who started the building of pyramids and royal tombs. Throughout the whole theatre an effort has been made for strength and dignity, as the Egyptian style in itself is a monumental one. The rich flora of the Nile, especially the lotus and papyrus, furnished the principle motifs or ornament, and even suggested the form of structural design.
On entering the lobby one is impressed at the loftiness of the two-story lobby with massive beams and pilasters, extremely refined and delicate. At the far end of the lobby is the grand staircase leading to the mezzanine balcony. . . the whole result is harmonious with furniture and lighting fixtures in this type. The main foyer is enhanced by ornamental cornices. The main auditorium is an open court. . . surrounded by a continuous colonnade or peristyle. with the open sky where stars twinkle through. There are murals between these columns. . . depict (ing) sunrise and sunset and show the transition of Egyptian architecture from 3400 BC to 1110 BC. One of the columns has the motif taken from the palm, papyrus or lotus palm leaves, being curved upright about the top of the shaft, bending gracefully under the weight of the abacus. Looking at the statue of Rameses II, set in a canopied niche in each side, one can feel the quiet peaceful and restful dignity of this 1200 BC style.
The organ arches and the proscenium are surmounted by the bust of a Pharoh, and the same effect used in the asbestos curtain and drapes. The hugh stage can accommodate all modern conveniences and stages, sets and properties. Large dressing rooms are located under the stage. Entrance to the orchestra pit is from this area.
All lighting effects are controlled from the switchboard in, the projection room and are obtained by means of resistance plates.
This building has had virtually no changes from the above description. Exterior alterations have been minimal.