Virginia Theater Marquee Comes Down

Story date: Wednesday, November 17, 2010 from Illinois Public Media News via Landmarks Illinois
A crew seperates the 'bump-ups' as it prepares to take down the Virginia Theatre marquee(Champaign’s Virginia Theater is now without a marquee. The proposal to replicate the original 1921 canopy was met with strong opposition from the public which only remembers the one just removed. THS Archive photos show “RKO” was originally spelled out above the theatre name. The Virginia hosts the Roger Ebert Film Festival. He was a student at nearby University of Illinois. The theatres original Wurlitzer is still in use. )

The sign that is been part of the theater since the 1940’s came down Tuesday. The city’s park district opted in June to replace it with one resembling the 1921 original.
Champaign Park District spokeswoman Laura Auteberry said it is likely the theater will re-open without the new marquee in place. The Virginia closed six months ago, so crews could redo the lobby, which included plaster and electrical work, and renovated concessions. Private donations paid for the project.
Preservationists have called the marquee the Virginia’s most defining feature. Auteberry said the controversy that initially arose over replacing that sign prompted the park district to make it a separate project.
“We actually pulled it out of the original planning process for the renovation so that the (Park District) Board had an opportunity to further study what we were looking at doing, and the replacement options for the marquee” Auteberry said. “So the whole process just got started a little later than we had originally anticipated.”
Auteberry said the Park District board will sign off on a design for a new marquee at its meeting next month. She said the board plans to hold a re-opening event, a kind of open house, sometime in January. The Park District contends a new marquee would show off more of the Virginia’s architectural significance.
Preservation planner Alice Novak said the sign change could impact the theater’s position on the National Register of Historic Places. She said she expects Illinois’ Historic Preservation Agency will consider such a recommendation.
“It could possibly change the standing,” Novak said. “I have no doubt that somebody will present materials to the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency to see about de-listing the building from the National Register.”
Novak added that could hurt publicity for the old theater. She sits on the Illinois Historic Sites Advisory Council.
(Photo courtesy of Champaign Park District)

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  1. Gary Lee Parks

    I tend to have a pretty consistent “policy” (opinion) on marquee matters such as this. Keep, restore, or replicate whichever marquee people love the most, and/or has the most “visual splash” or sense of lively, “come here for a fun night on the town” appearance. In most cases, a marquee of 1921 has far less impact than a marquee of the 1930s or 1940s. I helped fight to save the marquee of the Jose Theatre in San Jose, and we won. It is a 1940s neon marquee attached to the original 1904 Italianate facade of the theatre. If the original entrance canopy had been restored in that instance, it would have been a simple, tile-roofed canopy, topped by a small lightbulb swing-out sign, and with the trees that now stand on South Second Street (another issue altogether), the Jose would now be very hard to find, visually. In an era where our cities have suffered from bureaucratically-hatched “beautifucation” schemes which usually result in darker, duller nighttime streetscapes, we need to preserve all the colorful, historic lighted signage we possibly can.

  2. Gary Lee Parks

    Errata: I meant to type “beautification” in the third-to-last line. It was NOT meant to be a ribald play on words–purely a typo.

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