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Mattoon Vaudeville and Motion Picture Theaters


Eastern Illinois University

Charleston, Illinois


Coles County



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Vaudeville and Motion Picture Theaters

Introducing Theaters Into Mattoon

During the last half of the 19th century, Mattoon was a major theatrical center south of Chicago. The railroad lines helped bring many theatrical companies to the area, while en route to St. Louis. The street fairs and circuses of the 1890's also brought outsiders to Mattoon, allowing the theater industry to profit.

The Dole Theater, opening in 1866, offered minstrel shows, dramatic shows, music concerts, and special appearances. By the 1890's, vaudeville shows became more popular than 'legitimate' theater because they were cheaper. Motion pictures were adopted by vaudeville theaters through the 1910's, until taking over the entertainment business. Movies were, again, the cheaper source of entertainment for families. They were also busy social gathering places for the working and middle classes.

Silent Movie Days

During the silent movie days, motion picture theaters often hired organists or piano players to play music during the movie, using score sheets provided.  In the 1930's, Florence Myers played at the Strand and K Theaters and Paul Alcott played the organ at the Mattoon Theater (built in 1896).

Timeline of Theaters 


1866 Dole Theater 'legitimate' theater   
1896 Mattoon Theater vaudeville G.H. Johnson
1905 Bijou Theater vaudeville and motion pictures Ira Seybert
1905 Lyric Theater vaudeville and motion pictures Nate Stein
1910 Bijou II Theater motion pictures T.M. Kell
1911 Grand Theater vaudeville and motion pictures Nate Stein, Elmore Katz, and C.E. Kepner (who ended vaudeville)
1912 K Theater vaudeville and motion pictures Elmore Katz
  Strand Theater motion pictures  
1921 Mattoon Theater vaudeville and motion pictures George Kaiser, W.B. Kneedler
1936 Clarke Theater motion pictures Dominic Frisina, Edward Clarke, & Bianchi
1938 Time Theater motion pictures Fitzpatrick and McElroy
1946 Ricky Theater movies John and Walter Mullaney
1947 Skyway Drive-in Theater movies