The New Orpheum Theatre
The Orpheum Children’s Science Museum grew out of the effort to save the historic Orpheum Theatre building from demolition. This effort began in August 1989 when the Preservation and Conservation Association (PACA) held a public meeting to gauge interest in preserving the building that had sat unused since April 1986. The City of Champaign had an option to purchase the theatre with an eye toward razing it to make way for a parking lot.
The City closed on the purchase of the Orpheum and the adjacent building in January 1990. In July, the city allowed 45 PACA volunteers to spend a Saturday removing the 1967 era aluminum façade to reveal the original look of the building and assess the damage.
PACA hired theatre consultant Michael Hardy to do a feasibility study of the Orpheum. He suggested, in July 1990, a children’s museum as a possible use for the building. The cities did not have a children’s museum and there were already several successful performing arts facilities in the area.
The City of Champaign razed the adjacent warehouse building in February 1991. PACA cleaned and painted the theatre façade and made cosmetic repairs to the marquee in the fall of 1991.
The Orpheum Children's Science Museum
A new non-profit corporation, originally called The Discovery Place, was formed and held its first board meeting on 5 February 1992. The first Discovery Place event – a Kids Building Fair – was held on 20 June 1992 in the parking lot in front of the Orpheum. The Kids Building Fair has become an annual event.
The Champaign City Council voted to approve the sale of the Orpheum Theatre building to The Discovery Place, Inc. on 7 July 1992. Major fundraising began in earnest with “Bids For Kids” – a fine arts and antique auction held in the Robeson Building on 20 November 1992.
Planning and additional fundraising continued. Architectural Spectrum was the project architect and Michael Markstahler was the general contractor. The grand opening of the new children’s science museum in the storefront spaces of the old building occurred on 27 December 1994. 280 people attended the first day and over 1500 visited during the first week of operation. 1994 was the 80thanniversary year of Champaign’s New Orpheum Theatre.
The museum was renamed “The Orpheum Children’s Science Museum” to better reflect the heritage of the building in April 1997. The New Orpheum Theatre was declared a local landmark by unanimous vote of the Champaign City Council in March 1998. It was the first property to be so designated under the City of Champaign’s new historic preservation ordinance.
Phase II remodeling was completed in October 2000. The entrance lobby, grand foyer and mezzanine were restored for use as exhibit spaces. Architect: Architectural Spectrum. General Contractor: New Prairie Construction. An Illinois First grant from the State of Illinois provided $60,000 toward the cost of the remodeling. A grant from the United States Geological Survey provided money for the suite of new exhibits called Waterworks.
Phase III remodeling consisted of major restoration work in the auditorium. Deteriorating plasterwork was recast and installed. The room was painted in a multi-color scheme that is reminiscent of the original colors. Architect: Architectural Spectrum. General Contractor: New Prairie Construction. Funding was provided by a $250,000 grant administered by the National Park Service and matching funds that included a substantial legacy from the estate of Bruce C. Creamer. The completed project was inaugurated with a wine gala fundraiser in October 2009.