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Described as "a veritable house of enchantment" when it opened its doors on Monday, August 21, 1916, the Orpheum Theatre continues to be a place of beauty and a showcase for the arts in Western Illinois.


Early Days


In 1915, William J. Olson, owner of the Gaiety Theatre at the corner of Cherry and Simmons Streets, engaged the prominent architectural firm of C.W. & George L. Rapp to break ground for the Orpheum Theatre. The Rapp brothers were making waves with their philosophy that a theatre should be "a shrine to democracy where the wealthy rub elbows with the poor."


Their free blend of Italian Renaissance and Second Empire style of 19th century France with flourishes of classical, baroque and art nouveau gave the Orpheum an eclectic elegance.  The Orpheum was budgeted at an astonishing $75,000, but when finished wound up costing over $135,000.


Built as a vaudeville house, The Orpheum hosted many early stars of stage and screen, including Jack Benny, George Burns, Houdini, Al Jolson, Edgar Bergen, Fanny Brice and Blackstone the Magician.  The Orpheum was the finest in construction, acoustics, and accommodations, but as was the fate of most palaces of the era, the Orpheum's splendor could not withstand the demise of vaudeville and the rising popularity of television.  


Recent Memory

By the late 1970s, the Orpheum was part of the Kerasotes movie theater conglomerate. Due to high operating costs, the Orpheum was forced to close in 1982. The theatre was donated by the Kerosotes Company to the Knox County Civic Center Authority and a successful fund drive by the Prairie Players Civic Theatre raised $100,000 to restore the Orpheum to its former glory. A $2-million grant from the State of Illinois made the plan a reality. On May 5, 1988, the curtain rose on the Henry Mancini Orchestra for the re-inauguration gala.


Today, the Orpheum continues to reflect its former glory, bringing to the stage a diverse blend of the finest entertainment including Mickey Rooney, Collin Raye, the Doobie Brothers, Glen Miller Orchestra, Bo Diddley, The Acting Company and the Russian National Ballet companies. The theatre is also home to many local performing arts and non-profit organizations that bring music, movies, dance and theatre to our stage.




Orpheum Theatre opens its doors August 21 for two vaudeville shows at 2:15 p.m. and 8:15 p.m.  Matinee Tickets Prices:  10 cents for the Balcony, 25 cents for the Main Floor and 35 cents for Mezzanine Box Seats.  Night Show Ticket Prices:  10 cents for the Gallery (standing room only), 25 cents for the Balcony, 35 cents for the Main Floor and 50 cents for Mezzanine Box Seats.  (35 cents in 1916 translates to about $8 in 2016)



Piano is replaced by three (3) manual Barton Pipe Organs



RKO Corporation is formed, takes ownership of the theatre chain


Orpheum Theatre becomes a movie theatre



First major renovation; 7 center boxes in mezzanine and French doors are removed; air conditioning is installed



Orpheum Theatre named among buildings in the Galesburg Historic District, which appears on the National Register of Historic Places



Kerasotes Theatres purchases the Orpheum for use as a movie theatre



Orpheum forced to close due to high operating costs. The Sender scheduled as last movie



Second major restoration project begins



Orpheum reopens in May after $2.5 million renovation with a magnificent concert by the Henry Mancini Orchestra



Knox County Civic Center Authority is created to oversee theatre operations; Prairie Players Civic Theatre provides managerial oversight



City of Galesburg grants 2% of tourism Hotel/Motel tax - up to $100,000 per year - to the Orpheum



The Orpheum Theatre - in partnership with Galesburg School District 205 - formally organizes the Lights! Camera! Learn! program which introduces students of all ages to the world of performing arts.



The Orpheum Theatre launches its Red Carpet Series bringing world-class entertainment to its stage each season



Orpheum Theatre receives 501c3 not-for-profit status



Galesburg City Council lifts $100,000 cap on Orpheum Theatre's hotel/motel tax proceeds.  Orpheum granted full 2% of tax annually



Lights! Camera! Learn! is renamed YES! - Short for Youth Entertainment Series, and begins an extensive focus on entertaining and educational performances.



The Red Carpet Series begins to program from August to July to better meet industry standards.  



The Orpheum Theatre celebrates her 100th birthday!


The Orpheum Theatre begins a wealth of improvements due largely to the success of its Centennial Capital Campaign.


The Red Carpet Series is retired along with season ticket sales.  The series is then replaced with The Orpheum Theatre Presents, which announces Orpheum shows three to four months out, in an effort to book bigger names and offer reasonably priced tickets.


Today the Orpheum Theatre still functions as a non-profit under the Knox County Civic Center Authority bringing art, music, and theatre to the community, as well as being a meeting space, educational and historical resource, and venue for events. Through our History we have always sought to be a place to share stories and bring people together.

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