There were two incarnations of the Varsity, Encore, and Rex called the Illini
The first Illini opened 16 June 1948.
On June 29, 1948, the Rex was purchased by M & M Platz of Monticello along with Dr. Caldwell, director of the Syrup of Pepsin Company on 29 June 1948. The theatre reopened as the Illini on 16 July 1948. Ernie Panos bought the Illini in 1950.
An August, 1952, fire at Main Recreation Center in the neighboring building caused smoke damage at the Illini Theatre, closing it for about a week for clean-up. The theatre was repainted, the wall murals were reworked by Jim Sullivan and Tom Hermann, the seats reconditioned, rugs cleaned, and a new blue-white type screen installed. The Illini re-opened with two re-releases, "Black Swan" and "Shores of Tripoli."
The Art Theatre Guild, Incorporated, based in Columbus, Ohio, bought the Illini in 1958, and operated it until they closed it in mid-June, 1959. The Guild then leased the Illini to a Columbus, Ohio, businessman.
In March, 1963, the Art Theatre Guild re-named the Illini Theatre the Encore Theatre. As the name implies, the theatre featured older films.
View showing the Illini Theatre in 1952. This photo appeared in the News-Gazette 28 October 1952. University of Illinois Archives 004371.
The second Illini opened February 1966.
The policy of featuring older films continued until February, 1966, when the Art Theatre Guild changed the name back to the Illini Theatre. Richard J. Lynch was manager at the time. Along with the name change, a new policy was initiated. The Illini was now an "adult theatre" showing X-rated movies. The first movie featured at the renamed theatre was "Bad Girls Go to Hell."
The theatre building was sold in August of 1983. The sales contract prohibited an adult business in the building forcing the theatre to close. However, the arcade in the west half of the building was allowed to remain until its lease expired two years later.
The theatre sat empty until Jon and Debbie Callahan moved the Harvest Church into the building in 1987. Around June 7, they moved into the arcade space at 51 East Main. Then, around August 1, expanded into the theatre using it as an auditorium for church services and the arcade space for classrooms. By early 1995, the Harvest Church had outgrown the building and moved out and another church, New Restoration Urban Ministries, moved in.
After it moved out, the building housed a series of night clubs.
Illini Theatre circa 1962
The Havest Church auditorium.
Photo by Perry C. Morris