120-124 W. Main St., The Princess Theater

Project Overview

Architect: Unknown         Year Built: 1870       Architectural Style: Art Deco


Architectural Description

120-124 W. Main was constructed in 1870 as Busey’s Block and is located along Urbana’s Main Street. The building was one of the first brick buildings built in Urbana and was originally designed as an Italianate building. Several of the Italianate features still remain. The building was converted to the Princess Theater in 1915 and the Art Deco façade was added in 1934. The building is two stories tall with a brick wall that divides the first story into two storefronts. The main Art Deco façade of the building is symmetrical and is constructed of buff colored brick. The brick façade is divided by four Art Deco piers that protrude out from the main brick surface and above the flat roof line. The main feature of the building is the large metal and neon marquee that currently reads “Cinema.” There is a rounded ticket window and larger windows incorporated into the first story stainless steel and porcelain storefront. Near the cornice of the building are horizontal rows of glazed black brick. The building is currently a local historic landmark and, despite its alterations, compliments Urbana’s downtown historic district.

Historical Description

The Busey family, a prominent founding family of Urbana, built Busey's Block in 1870 to house their newly created bank, although it only occupied the building for a few years. The second floor was Busey's Hall, which was the first opera house in Urbana. Opera houses were very popular in the late nineteenth century, featuring live performances and vaudeville acts. Busey's Hall held many social events, such as dances, dinners and lectures, as well as hosted Theater troupes and other entertainers. Soon after Busey's Hall opened, Frank Tiernan built his own block just across the street with an opera house on the third floor. These were both popular social spots in the downtown, which otherwise consisted mostly of groceries and drugstores.
In 1877, Tiernan's Hall closed, selling the space to the Masonic Lodge No. 157 in 1889. Busey's Hall remained open until 1903. In 1908 the Illinois Theater was built a couple blocks west from Busey's on Springfield Ave to fill the entertainment gap in downtwon. This theater thrived until a fire destroyed it in 1927. However, by then the motion picture had taken over, and live theater was waning. In 1915, owner Gus Freeman converted Busey's Hall into the Princess Theater which remained open under varying names until 1994. The Alger Brothers, who owned many theaters around Illinois, ran the Princess Theater from 1934 until 1958 and were responsible for the Art Deco facade added 1934. In 1967 the theater was sold again to the Kerasotes Theaters company who changed the name from the Princess to the Cinema. The theater thrived, even opening a second auditorium in 1985 where the pastry shop is now. However, with the growth of multiplex theaters in the 1980s, small town theaters such as the Cinema have faced a challenging operating environment. It was closed in 1994. There are no other historic theaters in Urbana.
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Created on: Tuesday, May 29, 2012 - 12:36
- Author - SashaC
- Contributors: KevinG