January 2013: A local theater is under renovations to keep history alive on the Charleston Square. Read
February, 2012: Landmarks Illinois was able to provide a follow-up technical assistance report for this site with a grant from the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. Click here for report.
February, 2012: Will Rogers getting a second life but it might take a little while.
Preservation-minded owners have
purchased the theater.
Will Rogers Theatre
705-715 Monroe St.,
This 1938 theatre’s Art Deco design, vertical tower,
and marquee mark it as one of this eastern Illinois
community’s most distinctive buildings.
Permanently closed in November 2010, the owner,
American Multi-Cinema (AMC), is
selling the theater and the
adjoining commercial block.
Locals fear that due to years of deferred maintenance
and a lagging economy, it may be a long time before the
building is sold to a capable owner. In the meantime,
the building is at risk of further deterioration. The
Charleston Preservation Commission has recommended the
building for local landmark designation to protect it
from future demolition, but the City Council has yet to
make a final decision.
The Will Rogers Theatre was completed and opened in
1938. The adjoining commercial block, which contains
four storefronts, had been completed a few years earlier
(1935). The stream-lined-style buildings were developed
by local businessmen, who also had built theater
buildings with commercial blocks in Mattoon and
Taylorville. While those theaters are standing, they
have been largely gutted and altered. The Will Rogers’
lobby and stage are still intact. In the 1980s, the
auditorium was divided into two theaters, but could be
restored to a one-screen auditorium. The color scheme of
the exterior terra cotta panels and decorative motifs
are crimson and yellow, selected to honor the local high
school’s colors, while the recessed auditorium ceiling
was painted in blue and gray – the colors of Eastern
Originally seating approximately 1000 patrons, the Will
Rogers Theatre faces the same challenges of many small
town, Main Street movie theaters – competition from
large-scale, multi-theater “cineplexes,” that are often
located near an interstate
highway with substantial
parking. Many other Main Street
theaters have been purchased and
operated by local non-profit
organizations to serve as
community centers or performing
arts venues, for which
fundraising can often be a
challenge. Other current efforts
to save closed downtown Main
Street theaters include the
Wheaton Theatre in Wheaton
Grand Theatre in Alton.
What You Can Do
Join the Will Rogers Theatre fan page on