Theatre Belvoir

123 West Church Street, Champaign, Illinois

Opened 23 November 1915.  Name changed 9 September 1918. 

In 1915, Charles Fenton Hamilton, who had owned the Walker Opera House, had a large portion of the Russell Building rebuilt as a theatre.  The Russell Building, at 123 West Church Street in Champaign, had been built in 1905.  The building had housed storefronts, offices, and, on the second floor, a public hall known as Russell Hall. 

Construction of the new Theatre Belvoir had begun in the spring.  The theatre would be large enough to stage the best productions on the road.  The general contractor for the theatre was A. W. Stoolman.  The plastering was done by a Danville firm.  Frank Price had the decorating contract.  J. W. Swartz of Urbana had the electrical contract and Roy Gallagher of Urbana the steam fitting, plumbing, and heating contract.  The scenery was by Knox & Luny of St. Louis, and a Chicago firm furnished the leather upholstered chairs for the lower floor and first balcony.

Special precautions were taken to make the building as fire-proof as possible.  The stage was separated from the auditorium by a thick brick wall and all the floors were covered with a mastic carpet.  Mastic is a fire-proof composition of asbestos and cork, and in addition to its fire-proof capacity, is easy to walk on and keep clean.  The electric wiring was run in conduits to protect against fire caused by defective wiring.  The building was heated with city heat, a convenience for building owners and eliminating one of the possible causes of fire.  All the exposed woodwork was coated with a fireproofing material.

Eleven exits made it possible for the entire audience to leave the building in a very short time.

The house could seat 1,420 people.  700 seats on the lower floor and the rest divided between two balconies.  The theatre boasted that it had no rear seats.  The auditorium was wide, but not very deep, with the result that all of the seats were within closer-than-average distance from the stage.

The stage was unusually large allowing the managers to book any class of attraction into the theatre.  The stage was 34 feet deep and 70 feet wide.  The proscenium opening measured 36 feet wide and 24 feet high.  The fly loft could accommodate about 45 drops, as many as any of the larger road shows carried.

Seventeen dressing rooms were located in the basement under the stage.  Several of the rooms were equipped with shower baths.  A baggage chute had been installed to allow baggage to be taken direct from the alley in the rear of the building into the hallway underneath the stage.

Mr. Hamilton booked the Shubert attractions into the Belvoir, and on nights when there are no road shows, used the General film program of moving pictures. And over the vaudeville years Al Jolson, Otis Skinner and the Barrymore clan appeared at the Belvoir.

Mr. Hamilton had a time clock installed in the box office to stamp incoming mail orders to insure that the orders would be filled in the order received.

The Theatre Belvoir opened on Tuesday evening, November 23, 1915. 

There were no special ceremonies or speech-making to indicate that it was a night different from any other night.  The evening moved along without a single hitch as though each staff member had been working in the Belvoir for years.

The inaugural performance was "Beverly's Balance" presented by Margaret Anglin and her company.  The house was filled to about two-thirds of its capacity.  The production had received rave reviews in the big cities and the Drama League had sent Mr. Hamilton a nice letter complimenting him on having booked such a splendid attraction for the opening bill.

The new Theatre Belvoir staff, in addition to owner/manager C. F. Hamilton, included: Eugene Russell as treasurer/business manager, Emil Loehr as stage manager, Elmer Murphy in charge of the properties, and Billy Casad in charge of the orchestra.

The first movie was shown in the new theatre on Wednesday afternoon, November 24.  It was a three-reel film called "A Night In The Show" and starred Charlie Chaplin.  Also on the program was a Vitagraph film called "The Honor of the Crew", and an Edison film, "The Truth About Helen."  All this for ten cents.

A special added attraction was presented on the evenings of December 29 and 30, 1915.  Movies had been shot of local Christmas activities, including the Municipal Christmas tree at night and the festivities on Gazette Square.  The movies were shown at the Belvoir.

The 1918-1919 season opened on Monday, September 9, 1918, with a change of name for the theatre.  The old Belvoir became the Rialto.