The New Orpheum Theatre opened its doors on October 14, 1914. Ninety-five years later, in October of 2009, a fundraising wine gala was held to celebrate the restoration of the auditorium.
The historic Orpheum Theatre in downtown Champaign was saved from demolition in the late 1980s by our local Preservation and Conservation Association (PACA). The Lobby and Mezzanine areas of the museum were restored/remodeled to meet the needs of the new Orpheum Children’s Science Museum. New Prairie Construction completed that phase of the reconstruction in 2000.
Thanks to a grant from the National Park Service and the estate of a private donor, the museum was able to move forward with the restoration of the auditorium. New Prairie began the job in February, 2009, and finished that same October.
Rapp and Rapp, an architecture firm founded by a 1899 U of I alumnus, designed the Orpheum as a 1/3 scale model of the Opera House at Versaille. The following year, a bigger copy was built in Baraboo, Wisconsin. The theatre in Champaign boasted 754 seats and 18 loge boxes (the little balconies).
The New Orpheum Theatre was a vaudville stop on the once-famous Orpheum Circuit, a series of Orpheum Theatres scattered across the United States and British Columbia. Among the many famous acts that played at the theatre during its heyday were Harry Houdini, Will Rogers, the Marx Brothers, Jack Benny, Bob Hope, and Burns & Allen.
Be sure to visit all three sections below to see the whole process…..