History Of The Orpheum Children’s Science Museum

The Museum began as part of the effort to save the historic Orpheum Theatre from destruction. The New Orpheum Theatre opened on October 19, 1914 as both a vaudeville and a “moving picture” house. An early design by the prestigious theatrical architectural firm of Rapp and Rapp of Chicago, the Orpheum is a one-third scale model of the opera house at Versailles and was considered to be among the finest theaters in downstate Illinois. The great stars of the Orpheum Circuit played Champaign for years when vaudeville was popular. In the 1930s, the policy changed to “split-weeks” of movies with vaudeville on the weekends. By 1940, the Orpheum was showing movies almost exclusively. The theater closed in 1986 and stood vacant until 1989, when the local Preservation and Conservation Association began its campaign to save the Orpheum. The beloved little theater is one of the finest examples of adaptive reuse of an historic structure. In 1992, it was purchased and renovated for a hands-on science museum. Museum doors were opened on December 27, 1994 in the old storefronts. The second phase of construction was completed in 2000 with the Museum expanding into the vestibule, lobby, and mezzanine. The Museum continues to grow, adding educational opportunities and new exhibits both indoors and out. A generous matching grant administered by the National Park Service enabled restoration of the auditorium that is now used for special events. We are currently planning and fundraising to expand the Museum and continue renovations of the theatrical facilities.