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Egyptian Theatre (photo credit Egyptian Theatre DeKalb)

Egyptian Theatre

DeKalb, Illinois, United States

First Opened: 10th December 1929 (92 years ago)

Closed: 28th October 1977

Reopened: 17th September 1983

Atmospheric Style: Egyptian

Architect: Elmer F. Behrens

Website: www.egyptiantheatre.org Link opens in new window

Address: 135 N. 2nd Street, DeKalb, IL 60115 Link opens in new window

National Register of Historic Places: #78003100 Link opens in new window (added 1st December 1978)


Overview

The Egyptian Theatre was designed by architect Elmer F. Behrens, formerly of architect firm Rapp & Rapp of Chicago, who was a scholar and lover of Egyptology.

Auditorium in 1978
Auditorium in 1978

The discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in late 1922 led to a nationwide interested in all things Egyptian, and over 100 Egyptian-themed theatres were built across the country.

Behrrns used his intimate knowledge of Egyptology to design a theatre with one central theme, that of Ramses II – who was also known as Ramses the Great (reigned 1279 BC – 1213 BC). Ramses is often regarded as the greatest, most celebrated, and most powerful pharaoh of the Egyptian Empire.

Behrrns said of the theatre: “The Egyptian Theatre arouses in one thoughts of the Nile, Sphinx and Pyramids and all better styles of architecture. As one sees the exterior he is attracted to the two guardians of this temple flanking each side of a stained glass window in which is depicted the sacred beetle of the Egyptians. The two guardians or Pharohs [sic], are the kings and leaders who started the building of pyramids and royal tombs. Throughout the whole theatre an effort has been made for strength and dignity, as the Egyptian style in itself is a monumental one. The rich flora of the Nile , especially the lotus and papyrus, furnished the principle motifs or ornament, and even suggested the form of structural design.”

Auditorium in 1978
Auditorium in 1978

In the original design, additional buildings were supposed to be attached to the existing building, including a hotel on the north side, but they were never built due to the stock market crash in late 1929. The theatre’s unique broken-tile main lobby floor was also a culprit of the Great Depression; it was originally supposed to be marble.

Originally designed as a movie/vaudeville combination house, the Egyptian continued showing movies throughout the 1940s and 1950s with occasional live events. Senator John F. Kennedy made an appearance at the theatre on 25th October 1959, three months before he would announce his candidacy for president.

In the 1970s movies were shared with the occasional rock concert. The theatre was showing its age, and in 1977 was closed and transferred to the City of DeKalb.

In 1978, with the Egyptian’s future very much in doubt, a group of local citizens banded together to restore and save the theatre. The Egyptian was listed on the National Register of Historic Places later that year.

In 1982, Preservation of the Egyptian Theatre, Inc. (PET) qualified for a $2.3 million grant from the state of Illinois and allowed for the restoration of the theatre to begin. Renovations were completed by Fall1983 and theatre held its grand reopening weekend in mid-September 1983.

Auditorium from Stage
Auditorium from Stage

Since the early 1980s the theatre has hosted a diverse range of events including weddings, community meetings, movies, receptions, and live entertainment. From 2006 to 2012 over $1.5 million was invested in restoration, maintenance, and upgrades to the theatre.

In January 2019 it was announced that the theatre would undergo a $5.5 million renovation, including adding air-conditioning to protect the historical integrity of the building and alterations to meet the standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act. The theatre was forced to shut several times due to the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and as of early 2022 renovation plans are on hold.

Further Reading

Online

Historic Photos & Documents
News of the theatre’s opening, as printed in the 9th December 1929 edition of <i>The DeKalb Daily Chronicle</i> (580KB PDF)
News of the theatre’s opening, as printed in the 9th December 1929 edition of The DeKalb Daily Chronicle (580KB PDF)
Sketch of the theatre’s façade, as printed on the opening day of the theatre in the 10th December 1929 edition of <i>The DeKalb Daily Chronicle</i> (JPG)
Sketch of the theatre’s façade, as printed on the opening day of the theatre in the 10th December 1929 edition of The DeKalb Daily Chronicle (JPG)
News of the theatre’s closure, as printed in the 1st November 1977 edition of <i>The DeKalb Daily Chronicle</i> (130KB PDF)
News of the theatre’s closure, as printed in the 1st November 1977 edition of The DeKalb Daily Chronicle (130KB PDF)
Auditorium as photographed on 6th August 1978 for NRHP listing application (JPG)
Auditorium as photographed on 6th August 1978 for NRHP listing application (JPG)
Auditorium sidewall as photographed on 6th August 1978 for NRHP listing application (JPG)
Auditorium sidewall as photographed on 6th August 1978 for NRHP listing application (JPG)
Auditorium (House Left) as photographed on 6th August 1978 for NRHP listing application (JPG)
Auditorium (House Left) as photographed on 6th August 1978 for NRHP listing application (JPG)
Auditorium sidewall as photographed on 6th August 1978 for NRHP listing application (JPG)
Auditorium sidewall as photographed on 6th August 1978 for NRHP listing application (JPG)
Stage, as photographed on 6th August 1978 for NRHP listing application (JPG)
Stage, as photographed on 6th August 1978 for NRHP listing application (JPG)
Counterweight flying system, as photographed on 6th August 1978 for NRHP listing application (JPG)
Counterweight flying system, as photographed on 6th August 1978 for NRHP listing application (JPG)
News of the theatre’s grand reopening weekend, as printed in the 16th September 1983 edition of <i>The DeKalb Daily Chronicle</i> (580KB PDF)
News of the theatre’s grand reopening weekend, as printed in the 16th September 1983 edition of The DeKalb Daily Chronicle (580KB PDF)
Auditorium in the 1970s prior to restoration (JPG)
Auditorium in the 1970s prior to restoration (JPG)
News of <i>Preservation of the Egyptian Theatre (PET)</i> forming, as printed in the 11th August 1978 edition of <i>The DeKalb Daily Chronicle</i> (420KB PDF)
News of Preservation of the Egyptian Theatre (PET) forming, as printed in the 11th August 1978 edition of The DeKalb Daily Chronicle (420KB PDF)
Files displayed in this section may be subject to copyright; refer to our Copyright Fair Use Statement regarding our use of copyrighted media.

Photos of the Egyptian Theatre

Photo credits are noted where data was available at the time of inclusion. Photos displayed here may be subject to copyright; refer to our Copyright Fair Use Statement regarding our use of copyrighted media and contact us Contact Us with any concerns.

Photos

All photos here are from the Egyptian Theatre’s photo archives; be sure to visit their photo galleries here Link opens in new window!

Egyptian Theatre: Auditorium Left Sidewall, courtesy <i>Egyptian Theatre</i>
Auditorium Left Sidewall, courtesy Egyptian Theatre
Egyptian Theatre: Auditorium from Stage, courtesy <i>Egyptian Theatre</i>
Auditorium from Stage, courtesy Egyptian Theatre
Egyptian Theatre: Auditorium from Left, courtesy <i>Egyptian Theatre</i>
Auditorium from Left, courtesy Egyptian Theatre
Egyptian Theatre: Auditorium Detail, courtesy <i>Egyptian Theatre</i>
Auditorium Detail, courtesy Egyptian Theatre
Egyptian Theatre: Auditorium Sidewall Detail, courtesy <i>Egyptian Theatre</i>
Auditorium Sidewall Detail, courtesy Egyptian Theatre
Egyptian Theatre: Original 1929 Fire Curtain, courtesy <i>Egyptian Theatre</i>
Original 1929 Fire Curtain, courtesy Egyptian Theatre
Egyptian Theatre: Egyptian Theatre Exterior, courtesy <i>Egyptian Theatre</i>
Egyptian Theatre Exterior, courtesy Egyptian Theatre


Photographs copyright © 2002-2022 Mike Hume / Historic Theatre Photos unless otherwise noted.

Text copyright © 2017-2022 Mike Hume / Historic Theatre Photos.

For photograph licensing and/or re-use contact me here Contact Us.





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