Air Dome

South-West corner of Elm and Broadway
(originally Market Street), Urbana, Illinois

The Urbana Courier Herald of 24 June 1908 reported that an open-air theater would be opened within the next ten days.  Frank Green of Indianapolis leased the lot at the south-west corner of Market [Broadway] and Elm streets in Urbana and was preparing the unusual theater.  The fenced in area would have no roof.  People could see moving pictures in the cool of the evening.  The show would be cancelled if it rained. 1

Green had managed the McKinsey theater in Vincennes for a number of years.  He was looking to open an Airdome in Champaign as well. 2

The “At The Theatres” column in the August 5, 1913, Daily Illini said the Airdome, “Urbana’s only theatre still continues to please the large crowds with its excellent photo plays and feature reels.  Tomorrow night the Musicians’ Association band will render its weekly band concert.  This theatre has become the big bright spot and has kept the city awake by the sweet strains of the band, which has been welcomed by thousands who have shown their appreciation of the best in music.” 3

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Detail showing the Airdome from a photo in the collection of the Champaign County Historical Archives in The Urbana Free Library.  A portion of the tower of the old Urbana City Building is along the right edge of the photo.  

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Ad from The Daily Illini 24 July 1913

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Ad from The Daily Illini 24 July 1913

In an August 30, 1955, article for the Courier, William Groninger interviewed a couple men who remembered the Airdome from 1912.  Raymond “Sparky” Steele remembered two movies, “Lucille Love” and “Million Dollar Mystery,” from that year.  Glen Shepherd said “You could walk down the street at night and all you’d see was the backs of kids.  They’d take a bit and a drill and punch holes in the fence to see the show.”  He recalled they put up “one minute please” slides between the reels of the movies.  Sparky said there was a big board fence around the lot with a screen on the south end where the Urbana Lincoln Hotel is now.  Sparky also recalled one time a bunch of them pushed the fence over.  “There was a high wind and we kind of pushed too hard and over it went.  Caused a little excitement at the time.”  Groninger asked: “What did you do when it rained?”  “If you were there and wanted to see the show, you got wet,” Sparky said.  “That right, Shep?”  “That’s the way it was,” Shep said. 4

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