Busey's Hall/Princess Theater Nomination
Busey's Hall/The Princess Theater is being nominated for landmark status for its significance as part of the architectural, artistic, civic, cultural, economic, educational, ethnic, political or social heritage of the nation, state or community. Busey's Hall was one of the first brick buildings in Urbana. It is a two-story brick building with a brick wall dividing the first floor into two storefronts. The second floor is a large open area with a stage, and was used as a large hall. Downtown Urbana turned to brick construction soon after this building was erected due to a large fire in 1871 that destroyed most of the wooden structures. Busey's Hall survived because of this brick construction, and it is possibly the oldest building in downtown Urbana. Large buildings such as Busey's Hall were sometimes referred to as blocks in those times, such as Tiernan's Block. Multiple storefronts usually occupied the first floor, and the upper floors often had offices, or hall spaces such as Busey's Hall. The Busey Brothers, who financed the building, were part of the founding family of Urbana. They were a very prominent family throughout the years, founding Busey Bank, and funding the creation of the Urbana Free Library.
Busey's Hall was the first and one of the most popular opera houses in the past, and followed the trend from live performance to motion pictures when it was converted to the Princess Theater. The exterior of Busey's Hall has retained a high level of historic integrity. Round arched windows can be seen from Crane Alley, the only visible remnants of the original Italianate design. Remnants of tile from the 1915 renovation of the Princess Theater can be seen in the cafe on the first floor, including the word "Princess" spelled out at the entrance. The historic facade from 1934 is also still intact. The marquee remains from 1934 with a name change from 1967, and an addition of a coffee cup design in neon from the new cafe. The stainless steel and porcelain entrance was designed in 1949, and the curved window of the ticket booth has been incorporated into the design of the cafe. Busey's Hall/The Princess Theater is not only important because it was the first brick block in downtown Urbana, but because it has played a significant role in the cultural and social heritage of the community. From the days of opera houses, to its years as a movie Theater, it has remained a cultural landmark for the people of Urbana.
Architectural Style: Originally Italianate, Art Deco façade added in 1934.
Date of Construction and modifications:
- 1870: Original Busey's Block built
- 1900: 1 story rear addition on west half of building by Saffell and Co. department store. Addition was torn down before 1909
- 1915: 1 story rear addition; entrance changed to two storefronts with the Theater entrance in the middle; entrance design with white enameled brick columns; steel canopy with Princess sign; tile floor at entrance with "Princess" design
- 1934: New Art Deco facade, enameled brick with black chevrons, covered Italianate opera house windows; new marquee of maroon and white with neon tubing
- 1949: New attraction board and stainless steel and porcelain storefront
- 1967: Name on marquee changed from Princess to Cinema
- 1985: Storefront of McClellan Electric Co. remodeled to make a second auditorium for the Theater
- 1995: Theater closed in 1994, second Theater remodeled to open a media company
Name of Architect and Builder: Unknown
Construction Materials: Brick walls, stainless steel and porcelain first story facade, brick and glazed brick second story facade, metal and neon marquee.
Description of unique Architectural Elements: Theater marquee, opera house area on second floor, Art Deco facade; all of these elements intact.
Alterations or Additions to Building: One story rear addition in 1915; new facade in 1934; marquee in 1934.
Missing or Removed Architectural Features: No features missing, but historic alteration from Italianate facade to current Art Deco facade.
Description Of Building Elements
Front: Building is divided into two distinct sections, the east storefront and the west storefront. The east side of the building has an Art Deco facade of light tan brick and black glazed brick accents. There are four raised sections in the central area with angled glazed bricks in the center of each. Each section extends higher than the rest of the facade, with the extended portions in black glazed brick. There are also two horizontal rows of black glazed brick along the top of the facade about two feet apart. The first floor entrance is of porcelain and stainless steel, with tall display windows and a curved ticket window. A marquee of maroon and white with neon that reads "Cinema" is above the cafe entrance, with a display board angled beneath it. The west portion of the building is of tan brick, four bays wide. Windows are double casement on the second floor with display windows trimmed with dark green paint on the first floor. The first floor windows recess in at an angle towards the entrance at the right bay. There is an additional entrance to the right that leads to the second floor of the building. The door is of a cream color with recessed panels accented in tan.
Alley: The first floor of the building seen form the alley has remnants of white paint and windows that have been permanently bricked over. There is a tromphe I'oeil of a window towards the rear of the building, pained by local artist Glen Davis. Large lights and hanging flower baskets have been added along Crane Alley. There is one entrance along the alley, near the midpoint of the building. This entrance is a modern glass door, added during the recent renovations. The second floor is of red brick, three bays across. The rounded window of the original Italianate design can be seen on the second floor. The west side of the building cannot be seen because it has a common wall with the Brash Flower Shop.
Rear: The rear of the building is only one story high, added in 1915 for the Princess auditorium. The brick is painted over with cream and red to look like an Art Deco facade, which was also done by local artist Glen Davies. There is one entrance and a triple light window on either side of it. There is landscaping around this rear entrance, with brick trim on the sidewalks and a landscaped area on either side of the entrance with prairie grass and flowers.
The storefront at 120 W. Main is now the Cinema Cafe, where the entrance to the theater was historically. Remnants of the historic tile floor, including the word "Princess" at the entrance, still remain, likely from the 1915 renovation into the Princess Theater. The owners have tried to give the cafe a Theater motif, by incorporating the ticket booth and other theater features into the cafe design. Roundtable Media occupies the rear of the building, with access off of an alley. They have remodeled the auditorium space to a large degree, but have kept the old metal ceilings and details that remained from past theater renovations, including an iron pilaster. The storefront of 124 W. Main, which used to be the second auditorium area, is now Mirabelle Fine Pastries. The second floor of the building is the intact opera house area. It is a large open area with a stage still present. The original fixtures and metal ceiling remain, and the walls have ballerinas painted on them remaining from a dance studio that was located there in the 1960s.
The 100 block of West Main is one of the first commercial blocks in Urbana. Originally most of the structures were wood frame, until the Busey family constructed a new brick block for their bank in 1870. The lot they built on was on the main commercial block, between Race and Broadway, where the Urbana House hotel used to be located. This was a two-story frame building, remembered for housing Abraham Lincoln on his visits to Urbana in the past. It was moved to a location across from the Courthouse so that Busey's Hall could be built. Busey's Hall was the first brick block constructed in downtown Urbana. These large buildings were known as blocks at this time and were named after the person who funded the construction. The use of bricks as a building material quickly increased in downtown Urbana after a fire in 1871 destroyed most of the downtown area. The fire was compared to the Chicago fire of the same year for the amount of devastation to the community. Busey's Hall survived this great fire because of its brick construction, and from then on brick was used as the main construction material in downtown.
The Busey family, a very prominent founding family of Urbana, built Busey's Block. They were not only the first settlers of Urbana, but also founded Busey Bank and the Urbana Free Library, among other things. They built this building to house their newly created bank, although it only occupied the building for a few years. The second floor was Busey's Hall, which was the first opera house in Urbana. Opera houses were very popular in the late nineteenth century, featuring live performances and vaudeville acts. Busey's Hall held many social events, such as dances, dinners and lectures, as well as hosted Theater troupes and other entertainers. They featured Ralph Bingham: the Boy Orator in the Spring of 1883. They also had a large celebration for general Grants 63rd birthday in 1885. Often traveling Theater troupes would put on performances for many weeks at a time. The Acme Dramatic Company stayed ay Busey's Hall for six weeks, performing shows such as "Pecks Bad Boy" and "Davy Crockett". And no opera house was complete without a showing of "Uncle Tom's Cabin". Maxwell's Uncle Tom's Cabin Company was the chosen performer of this popular show at Busey's Hall in 1885. Soon after Busey's Hall opened, Frank Tiernan built his own block just across the street with an opera house on the third floor. These were both very popular social spots in the downtown, which otherwise consisted mostly of groceries and drugstores. There was a large increase in commercial business around this time, because the IBW., the Indianapolis, Bloomington and Western Railroad, was built through Champaign County in 1869. Main Street was lined with retailers, such as Knowlton-Bennett Drugstore, the Palace Confectionary, Dickenson's Grocery and Hanes Mean Market. With the entrance of the IBW., which ran from Indianapolis, goods could be shipped to the stores a lot easier and faster.
In 1877, Tiernan's Hall closed, selling the space to the Masonic Lodge No. 157 in 1889. Next was the closing of Busey's Hall in 1903. It was still used as a social hall to hold dances and other events, but there were no more live performances. In response, the Illinois Theater was built in 1908, a couple blocks west from Busey's on Springfield Ave. This theater thrived until a fire destroyed it in 1927. However, by then the motion picture had taken over, and live theater was waning. Busey's Hall went with this change, and owner Gus Freeman converted the building into the Princess Theater in 1915. The theater was open and a popular social scene until 1994. The Alger Brothers, who owned many Theaters around Illinois, ran the Princess Theater from 1934 until 1958. They did many renovations on the building, including the Art Deco facade in 1934, and eventually sold it to Kerasotes Theaters. Kerasotes changed the name from the Princess to the Cinema in 1967. The theater thrived, even opening a second auditorium in 1985 where the pastry shop is now. However, with the influx of multiplex theaters, the small town theaters such as the Cinema have lost a lot of business. It was closed in 1994, and is now a coffee shop and cafe. There are no other historic theaters in Urbana.
Busey's Hall/The Princess Theater is located on one of the main downtown commercial blocks. It is on West main Street, between the major north-south streets of Race and Broadway. Only blocks away from the Courthouse and the Urbana Free Library, the historic downtown area which is where some of the oldest buildings in Urbana are located. It is across the street from the Masonic Temple, which was also one of the brick blocks built around the time of Busey's. The Cinema was the only Movie Theater in Urbana. The other historic theaters in Champaign County are all located in Champaign.