History of the Fischer Theatre
The Danville Opera House Company was organized with a capital stock of $35,000 divided among 50 persons in the sum of 7 shares each. The building cost $28,000 including furnishings, scenery and equipment. The lot was purchased for $6,000 from R. W. Gillette. On the lot was a house, barn, woodshed and hen house surrounded by an iron fence. It was the former residence of Dr. W. W. R. Woodbury, a prominent Danville physician. The original building was 65 feet wide and 127 feet long. The foundation was 4 feet wide butting up to a base two feet wide which was carried up to the first tier of joists. From this point up to about 20 feet in height the walls are 20 inches thick, and from there to the top 16 inches thick. The red brick walls were trimmed with Bedford stone from nearby Indiana.
November 5, 1884
The Grand Opening was held. The Commercial News described the theatre as "both spacious and elegant". It describes heavy draperies on the stage in blue and gold. "The drop curtains, Oriental in design, depict a large Moorish arch through which is seen a Turkish city with its domes and minarets. In the foreground are ships and boats." It also noted that there was a perfect view of the stage no matter where one was seated. The Grand Opening feature was the Emma Abbott Grand English Opera Company presenting "King for a Day". Receipts were $1,001.75. The house netted $59.65. It seemed political excitement was a distraction that night, for it was election night and Grover Cleveland was to be the first Democrat elected since the Civil War. There was a seating capacity of 1,100.
December 7, 1885
Lillian Russell performed. The house lost $1.20. A critic wrote "Miss Russell can sing, when she wants to, and act well, but last evening she seemed not to care whether she pleased the audience or not".
June 7, 1888
The last Danville High School graduating class from the old Washington School held commencement exercises in the theatre.
The people of Vermilion County were treated to a variety of stage plays in those early days. The Minstrels always drew a crowd. When the Burton and Wilsons Minstrels performed in December 18, 1884, when the temperature was 15 degrees below zero, they drew a large attendance. The Waverly Minstrels grossed over $400 for the house when they performed on December 28, 1888. The old ledgers for the theatre are now at the Vermilion County Museum.
October 26 and 27, 1889
The first movie held at the theatre was shown by the International Cinegraph Company of New York. It was the Fitzsimmons-Jeffries fight held earlier in the year on June 9 at Coney Island.
April 16, 1907
The Grand Opera House was sold to George W. Chatterton, Sr. of Springfield, Illinois.
Mr. Chatterton sold his interest to Louis F. Fischer. The theatre was closed for remodeling and structural renovation. The building was enlarged by 40 feet to the West and the stage was moved back the same distance to provide more seating space. The entrance was changed to Harrison Street. A new facade was made on Vermilion Street and four first floor storefronts were created on Vermilion Street. A new balcony was added. There was a new mezzanine floor with 100 boxes (loges) that would seat 6 people each. The Lyric Theatre next door, which opened in 1906, was also remodeled. The cost for both theatres was $100,000.
March 13, 1913
The Grand opening of the "new" Fischer Theater.
The Grand Opera House was not only a theatre, it housed offices and residences on it 2nd, 3rd and 4th floors. In 1915 Boston Academy of Music and Knecht Apartments were on the 3rd and 4th floors. The Vermilion Street shops were: Opera House Cloak and Suit Store, Glasgo Tailors, Adolph Alfiere - Convectioners and Miss Myra Wilson (Wilson Co.) Milliners.
The Fischer and Palace (former Lyric Theatre) theatres were sold to the Publix Great State Theatres. The following changes were made to the Fischer Theater. The entrance on Harrison Street was changed back to Vermilion Street. The lobby was enlarged by absorbing two of the four storefronts created in 1912. The ticket booth now faced the outside. There was a new marquee, the largest in town, and state-of-the-art motion picture equipment was added. All of the vintage movies, such as "Gone With the Wind", "The Wizard of Oz" and "Singing in the Rain", were shown at the Fischer.
The third and fourth floors were the Portia Club Furnished Rooms for Women. The 2nd and 3rd floors were occupied by a blue print company, May Belle Cook Beauty Shop, Fidelity Insurance and Publix Theatres.
Doctors, dentists, insurance companies and even an U.S.A. Recruiting Service occupied these upper floors until 1961. The Vermilion Street shops have been occupied by candy shops, jewelers, barbers, and optometrist. etc.
Air conditioning was installed in the theatre.
World War II
Thousands of dollars were raised to buy War Bonds by auctioneers Rodgers and Ward on stage selling donated items. Many patriotic movies were shown during the war years.
Last major refurbishing. The H.R. Teichert Company of Chicago painted the interior with a subtle gold design.
The Kerasotes Theatres of Springfield, Illinois, purchased the Fischer and Palace theatres.
"The Longest Yard" was shown testing the city ordinance banning R-rated movies. Commissioner David Palmer remarked, "The thing I find most objectionable was the foul language".
September 4, 1981
It was announced the Fischer Theatre would close. Two weeks later it was announced it would reopen as a dollar house.
January 5, 1982
The Fischer Theatre was closed. Keresotes Theatres took seats, boiler and everything else they could use and sell out of the theatre.
Phase 1 (1983 – 1997)
Initial studies show economic value to the community through a restored Fischer Theater. The City took title to the building and a significant fund raising effort began to provide matching funds for a state of Illinois Civic Center Authority grant.
Gene Hackman, Jerry Van Dyke, Dick Van Dyke, Donold O’Connor and Bobby Short joined forces for the only time on stage at the David S. Palmer Civic Center to raise money for the project.
The state grant never became a reality due to funding cuts. VHF invested the funds and provided maintenance as needed while alternative funding sources were explored.
|Maintenance and fundraising costs*||($320,302)|
* Roof donated 1991/disposal costs $12,000, installation of gas and water taps at $6,296, replaced windows at $39,240, improvements to Palace Park at $29,495.
Phase 2 (1998 – 2006)
In fall 1997 the city’s concern about the stability of the building increased. The City Council voted by a slim majority to save the building again and members of Old Town Preservation joined the board. The cash remaining from Phase One was used to stabilize the building and to begin renovation work on the lobby, cafe and office/gift shop. The building was opened to the public from 2001 to 2005 to reintroduce the building to the public for classic movies, concerts, and stage productions. Costs associated with these events, including utilities, offset revenue generated.
|Cash from phase one||$424,942|
|Contributions and program income||$378,937|
|Utilities, insurance and taxes||($139,210)|
*Includes stabilization of south wall and trusses, roof replacement (2003), lobby improvements, restrooms, stairway, care, office, installation of contributed boiler.
Phase 3 (2006 – today)
Vermilion Heritage Foundation is taking the steps recommended by the League of Historic American Theaters (LHAT) to start again in our approach to preserving a historic landmark while creating a tourist destination and a continued focus on arts education for our community. McQueen and Associates Consultants have conducted a market assessment and analysis. WJE Engineers have conducted a Phase 1 initial assessment to confirm structural stability and then subsequent evaluations of costs for repair and renovation. This will give us the basis for a professional fundraising campaign.