Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Virginia Theater!

It was a month ago now that we arrived in Champaign, Illinois for the 16th Ebertfest, named for film critic Roger Ebert who started the "Overlooked Film Festival" way back in 1999.  Through its entire run it has been held at the Virginia Theater - quite the amazing place.  Built in 1920 as a vaudeville stage and movie house it has also hosted everything from dramatic plays to dance recitals.  We posted a few pictures in our first Ebertfest post upon our arrival, but I've got more shots of the incredible interior to show too. 

The Virginia was commissioned by prominent local contractor A. W. Stoolman, who named it for his daughter Elizabeth Virginia Stoolman.  The exterior is of the Italian Renaissance style and designed to resemble an Italian pavilion.  The recently restored marquee is shown at left, and at right some of the detail of the exterior stonework.

Of course, one of the highlights of this year's Ebertfest was the unveiling of the sculpture of home boy Roger Ebert.  By next year's event, the statue will be permanently mounted a few yards east of the entrance to the theater.

Refer to our previous posts of wide shots of the interior.  We were assured by fellow attendees in the long lines to get in that there really were no bad seats in the house and after sitting in both the main floor and balcony that it is absolutely true.  The interior seems open and expansive, and the details are quite spectacular.  Shown at left is part of the organ loft where the pipes are housed, and at right is some of the details in the columns.

And while the organ was only played the first evening as Ebertfest opened, it was impressive too!  Part of the original construction in 1920, it was reported to cost 50,000, thought to be an exaggeration.  It received a restoration in the '60s, and benefited from ongoing work that started in the late '80s.  The keyboard and controls and plaques are shown at left, at enough scale to read some of the labels...

There is liberal use of stained glass from signage to lighting.  Shown at left is one of a pair of stained glass house lights, with decorative murals.  At right is the front face of the balcony seen from the main floor - incredible details showing Spanish adventurers Cortez and Hernandez.  Descriptions say the interior is of Spanish Renaissance design.

It seems everywhere you look are designs of incredible detail. In the dusk of the downstairs concession stand, wall panel designs with perhaps Greek influence are shown at left in a quarter second exposure.  In the balcony level concession, the ceiling panels feature incredibly deep relief designs, shown at right.

While the Ebertfest program is second-to-none for quality movies, it is the venue of the Virginia that really makes it special, and part of the reason that we're likely to return in the future...

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