THUNDERBIRD THEATRE

708 South Goodwin Avenue, Urbana
(sometimes listed as 710 South Goodwin)

Opened Friday 25 February 1966

Closed October 1994

It was then operated as the Thunderbird Brew & View and then as the Canopy Club 

Some Raymond Timpone and Thunderbird History

An interview with Dennis Sodomka of the Daily Illini printed 13 January 1966 revealed insights about Raymond Timpone and some of the history of his Thunderbird Restaurant.  This section is all based on that article. [1]

Timpone, from Chicago, met his future wife while attending Navy school.  He enrolled in the University after the war and worked waiting tables, tending bar, and unloading magazines  for Railway Express.  While still an undergraduate and with little money down, Timpone purchased the spot which eventually grew into the Jolly Roger restaurant on Urbana’s Water Street.  He and his wife both worked at the business which soon boomed.  Many students who knew he had purchased the property came over in the evenings to spend some time.  They told their friends who told other friends and students soon flocked to his tavern.

Explaining why he has always catered almost exclusively to students, Timpone replied “they have always needed certain services, and that since students are more or less a captive audience the market for business designed to serve the students is tremendous.”

Timpone opened a second restaurant on Sixth Street but was not completely satisfied with the site.  He knew that Daniel Street had the most student traffic, so the Timpones looked for a place to buy on Daniel.  In 1958 they acquired the property where the old Thunderbird was located.  At first the Timpones wanted to tear down the building and build fresh, but they liked the way the inside of the building looked so much that they decided to remodel instead.  What sold them on the inside of the building was the balcony that overlooked the first floor.

In 1961 Timpone acquired the property next door to his Thunderbird with the intention of expanding the T-Bird and adding a complex of shops with apartments on three upper stories.  The University soon interrupted his plans with their desire to acquire the two lots for a parking garage.  Timpone fought this vigorously but eventually the courts sided with the University and he was forced to vacate the land.

The Thunderbird Court

Raymond Timpone announced plans for a new theatre-restaurant complex in a 22 May 1964 Daily Illini story.  The complex would be located at 704 to 710 South Goodwin Avenue on the Urbana side of the University campus.  This came following the University’s Board of Trustees’ approval of the settlement on Timpone’s Daniel Street properties. The University had filed condemnation suits to gain possession of the Thunderbird restaurant property at 603 East Daniel Street and the adjacent property at 605 East Daniel.  The University’s previously announced intention was to erect a multi-story parking lot on the site. [1]

In October, The News-Gazette reported that the University had changed its plans and was now going to build a new academic building on the site rather than the parking garage.  Specific use of the building was not revealed at the time. [2] Those lots combined with others became the site of the Psychology Building.  Classes began to be held in the unfinished building in the Spring Semester 1970. [3]  Formal dedication was held in March 1971. [4]

“I originally planned to put up a theatre next door to the present Thunderbird restaurant, but when the University filed the condemnation suit, the plans could not be carried out,” Timpone said.  “With so many dorms and sororities on the Urbana side of campus the students could use both a new restaurant and a theatre on Goodwin.  I’m sorry to leave Daniel Street but hope to create a new Daniel Street on South Goodwin.” [5]

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Architectural rendering of the proposed Thunderbird Court,

Raymond Timpone had been thinking about the concept for some time.  “It was my original idea to have some sort of general entertainment area for the students, where they could relax and enjoy themselves,” Timpone says.  “The thing just kept snow-balling until I came up with this.”  The courtyard would have a cobbled surface and antique lanterns ordered from England.  The shops were faced with weathered brick while the second story was sided and roofed with shake shingles which would age to a dark brown.  All this lending an Old England look. [6]

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Courtyard photo. Champaign-Urbana Courier 25 February 1966.  Scanned from microfilm..

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Courtyard photo from 2008 by Perry C. Morris.

A 1 August 1965 story in The Daily Illini reported that construction of Raymond Timpone’s Thunderbird Court was well under way and completion was expected in February 1966.  The main façade would have a 115-foot frontage on South Goodwin Avenue. A secondary façade would have a 63-foot frontage at 115 West Oregon Street.  The complex would consist of at least five student-oriented businesses that would include a movie theatre and a new version of Timpone’s old Thunderbird Restaurant. None of the shops would open directly onto Goodwin Avenue.  Instead a covered passage would lead into an open-air courtyard containing the shop entrances. [7]  The complex was designed by the Urbana architectural firm of Atkins, Barrow and Graham.  Contractor was the Doyle Construction Co. with Morris Doyle acted as supervising architect. [8]

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Interior of the new Thunderbird Restaurant.  Champaign-Urbana Courier 25 February 1966.  Scan from microfilm.

The Thunderbird Theatre

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The Thunderbird Theatre held a preview performance on Thursday 24 February 1966 allowing over 500 special guests to inspect the new theatre.  The guests included members of the Urbana Association of Commerce, the Champaign Chamber of Commerce, and other dignitaries from the University, Urbana, and Champaign. [1]

“Promise Her Anything,” in technicolor, was chosen for the preview event to show off the theater’s new camera lenses and technicolor operation.  This was the Midwest premier of the film that starred Robert Cummings, Leslie Caron and Keenan Wynn.  “The Spy That Came In From the Cold,” a black and white film starring Richard Burton, began its regular run on Friday, 25 February. [2] 

Full-page Thunderbird Theatre grand opening ad from the Champaign-Urbana Courier 24 February 1966.

The theatre included a large lounge area that was decorated with flowers from well-wishers for the debut.  The carpeted lounge had wood paneling and brick and featured a fireplace. [3]

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Auditorium interior facing the screen.  Construction is not quite complete - note the scaffolding.  Champaign-Urbana Courier 25 February 1966. Scan from microfilm.

Newspaper ad from day of public opening.  Champaign-Urbana Courier 25 February 1966. 

Scene from the lounge of the new Thunderbird Theatre at the 24 February 1966 preview event. Champaign-Urbana Courier 25 February 1966.  Scan from microfilm

The auditorium accommodated over 800 people.  Extra space was allotted between rows for additional leg room, thus reducing the capacity by 100 seats. [4] The rear half of the auditorium was steeply pitched, stadium style. [5]

The theatre was owned by Brotman and Sherman, a Chicago-based theatre chain which operated 14 other film houses.  Brotman and Sherman leased the theatre from building owner Ray Timpone. [6]

Before the film, theatre co-owner Oscar Brotman shared the theatre’s policy:

“We feel the Thunderbird Theatre should be the kind of theatre which will show the types of film that appeal to a discerning type of people.  There will be no go-go type movies here; no “Thunderball” or Elvis Presley.  This won’t be a way-out art theatre.  We will give you something to think about, rather than something to insult your intelligence.” Brotman said “The Spy Who Came In From The Cold” would be typical of the kind of films shown.  He also said the theatre would not show any “nudie” films. [7]

The Brotman-Sherman firm was operating the Thunderbird in 1975.  Kerasotes had taken over operations by 1978. [8]

Kerasotes closed the Thunderbird in October 1994.

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