315 North Neil Street, Champaign, Illinois
(69 North Neil before renumbering)
Opened 1 September 1910
Renamed 31 August 1912
This short article from the Friday, 2 September 1910 Champaign Daily News gives a lot of information about the Crystal movie theater and its opening the prior day.
“The opening of the Crystal moving picture theater at 69 North Neil street Thursday evening was a pronounced success and a huge surprise to the management, for they were obliged to give three shows to accommodate the crowd.
The new theater has a seating capacity of 250 and it was taxed at each show.
The theater is pretty in both exterior and interior, with opera chairs set on an incline, affording excellent view from all parts of the house, L.R. Mathews and W.F. Jackson are the proprietors and they are thoroughly experienced. They are not in any combine and can procure any films they desire. Each show gives 5,000 feet of films and in addition illustrated songs by Mrs. Weidman. The picture machine is in a fireproof enclosure and the danger is reduced to practically nothing.” 1
1915 Sanborn Insurance map. The Lyric Theatre is at 303 North Neil and the Crystal is at 315 North Neil. Also shown is the Park Theatre close by on Church Street.
The Champaign Daily Gazette, on the same day, added that the motion picture machine was of the very latest design on the market. Patrons attending the first night were of the opinion that the pictures were as good as were ever shown in Champaign. The Gazette reported that the partners were determined to run a theater that was first-class in every respect and predicted success in pleasing the Champaign public. 2
According to an announcement in the Champaign Daily Gazette on Saturday 30 September 1911, the Crystal Theatre was under new management. Mrs. Frances Neims of Champaign was the new owner and it was her intention “to give to the public the very best class of moving pictures and illustrated songs that can be obtained.” The program would change daily. Mr. Wooley was the manager. 3
Grand opening ad from the Champaign Daily News of Thursday 1 September 1910.
The Champaign Daily Gazette, on Monday, 5 August 1912, reported that Mrs. Frances Nelms and her father, S.R. Wooley, former owner/operators of the Crystal had sold it to H. H. Johnson, owner and manager of the Lyric, and his brother-in-law, C.L. Hunter, who will manage the Crystal. 4
It was not to be called the Crystal for much longer though. Their plans included being closed for a week or two for redecoration and reopening with a new name. They held a contest among Champaign ladies to come up with the new name. 4 They would also continue with the independent film policy of the Crystal. Mr. Johnson had been in Indianapolis the prior week securing the best films available from the independent distributors. A weekly news feature similar to that played at the Lyric would be shown one evening each week. The managers would not change the policy at the Lyric. 5
Ten days work by painters, carpenters, and electricians readied the old Crystal for reopening on Monday 26 August 1912. It still did not have its new name. The Gazette reported that the interior now looked very similar to the Lyric including seating for 275 and an inclined floor. When the Crystal first opened it was reported that the floor was inclined so perhaps the angle was changed to improve the sight lines. The subdued electric lighting scheme at the Lyric was replicated. 6
A skylight in the center of the auditorium was to be opened in the evenings and closed over with dark glass for the afternoon matinees. 7
Clint Brown would sing ballads in the evenings, Desmondi, current Lyric vocalist, would be singing at both houses in the afternoons. 8
The seats were filled all evening in what the Gazette called “the pretty little picture house” whose interior “is as beautiful as is the Lyric,” H.H. Johnson’s other theater. 9
Ad from the Champaign Daily Gazette of Tuesday 18 October 1910.
“The Neil” is announced as the new name of the old Crystal theater in the Champaign Daily Gazette on Saturday, 31 August 1912. The Gazette reported “Mrs. Steele, wife of Jules L. Steele of The Gazette reportorial staff, 208 West White Street, has christened the new moving picture theater owned by H.H. Johnson, manager of the Lyric and has been made the recipient of $10 in cold cash therefore. The name of the new house is to be “The Neil.” Some 100 names were submitted, many were duplicated with “The Alhambra,” “Orpheum” and “Princess” being the most popular. One lady suggested “Komonin,” meaning “come on in.” There was only one “Neil,” however, which Mr. Johnson decided was the most appropriate suggestion. 10