Orpheum Children's Science Museum

History of the Orpheum Theatre

Our home is the Orpheum Theatre, one of the finest historic buildings in central Illinois. This beloved facility is one of the best examples of adaptive reuse of an historic structure in the country.

the Orpheum facade from the early days

The New Orpheum Theatre opened on October 19, 1914 as both a vaudeville theater and a "moving picture" house. All the great stars of the Orpheum Theatre Circuit played Champaign, and it was considered to be the finest theater in downstate Illinois. The Orpheum is a one-third scale model of the opera hall at Versailles and one of the earliest designs of the prestigious architectural firm of Rapp and Rapp of Chicago.

The theater closed in 1986 and stood vacant until 1989, when PACA began its campaign to save the theater. In 1992, it was purchased and renovated for a hands-on science museum. Museum doors were opened on December 27, 1994. The second phase of construction was completed in 2000, which included the vestibule, lobby, and mezzanine. A detailed history of the Orpheum is available here.

The museum continues to grow, add new exhibits, and educational opportunities. We are currently planning for expanding the facility while renovating the theater through a generous matching grant by the National Park Service. We are proud to be a member of Museum at the Crossroads, which is a consorium of museums of Champaign County.

poster for the Orpheum's grant from the National Park Service