City of Springfield, Illinois

James O. Langfelder - Mayor

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Old South Town Theater Marque

Old South Town Theater Marque

1110 South Grand Avenue East, Springfield, IL

The South Town Theater opened circa 1915 as the Empress Theater in the developing commercial center called South Town, near the intersection of 11th St and South Grand Avenue. Known as “The House of Better Pictures”, the Empress was one of the first theaters to be built in a suburban area away from Springfield’s central downtown district. In 1937, the Empress was purchased, remodeled and renamed South Town Theater.

The theater served as one of the social centers of the South Town commercial district and neighborhood. As such, it retains an architectural and social/humanitarian significance to the history of Springfield. The theater’s façade and marquee are the best remaining examples of early motion picture theaters in the city.

The South Town Marquee shows the art deco style of theater fronts, once used in the early 1900’s with colorful tile and a large overhanging display encased with decorative metal sheeting, neon lights, and hundreds of flickering bulbs. The back-lit portion of the sign was covered with hanging letters announcing the movie and stars being featured. There were eight large panels with geometric and flowing designs above the sign and four metal threaded rods providing support for the Marquee.

The South Town name was centered on the Marquee and boasted the same lighting style. An arch support connected it to the roof and concrete panels. The box office, a glass booth with a decorative metal crown, was centered by six glass and wood doors, three in and three out. The doors were simply decorated with metal push plates and slender handles on opposing sides. A lighted, changeable sign, used for seasonal greetings or additional movie information, was above the doors and below the overhanging Marquee.

In 2007, the City of Springfield purchased and restored the theater façade and Marquee, reclaiming its original neon brilliance. Each evening, the lighted Marquee is now transformed to its early 1900’s glamour.