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Built in 1920, the Madison Theater opened during an era when many Americans benefited from a growing economy which created myriad new entertainment options for city dwellers, including going to the theater to see a touring vaudeville show. The Madison Theater featured an ornate Italian Renaissance exterior along with tripled arched windows. Theaters of the era were built in grand fashion with ornate details and amenities. The popularity of vaudeville slowly gave way to films, and the Madison followed suit by showing more movies over time. While many downtown theaters were demolished, the Madison was saved in the 1980s and renovated in the 1990s to offer a place for live theater and concerts, including a show by Ray Charles. In 2016, the building was severely damaged by fire and while many local citizens are committed to historic preservation, the future of the Madison remains uncertain.


  • Historic Madison Theater (1920) in Peoria, IL.
  • Madison Theater with name engraved in facade.
  • Madison Theater interior (date unknown).
  • 1953 Photo of Peoria's Madison Theater
  • 1921 photo with view of Madison Theater with its ornate details, proscenium, main curtain, side stages, and orchestra pit.

The Madison Theater arrived in Peoria at a time when the U.S. entered into a decade marked by good economic times, eventually known as the Roaring '20s, which resulted in a prolific consumption culture and also offered many U.S. residents an opportunity to spend money on items of leisure, including movie houses and theaters. Indeed, the 1920s might be considered the era of the movie house and theater.  

Similar to many theaters built during the era, the building features a host of lavish designs and ornate features. The Madison enjoys Italian Renaissance exterior, tripled arched windows, and a lobby with a domed ceiling.  Like most theaters built during the early twentieth century, The Madison opened as a vaudeville theater before slowly transitioning to silent films and then motion pictures ("talkies") by 1930. The Madison remained a popular destination through the middle part of the twentieth century before suffering from decline and eventually struggling to compete with modern, "multiplex" theaters.  

A 1980s renovation helped the theater survive, but it wasn't until the years of 1996-2002, when Jay Goldberg Events & Entertainment group revived the theater, that The Madison again thrived. Under the group's direction, the theater hosted more than 200 concerts including performances from such acts as Ray Charles, The Smashing Pumpkins, and REO Speedwagon. However, despite the resurgence in popularity provided by the live music events, the theater finally closed its doors in 2003. 

A significant fire overtook the theater in June 2016. As a result,  the City of Peoria filed a condemnation notification for the building. But, repairs made to the building seemed to have saved the building for now. The future of the building remains unclear, though. Until then, it stands as a reminder of a Roaring '20s U.S. Culture that, for those with means, adored its theater and a late 20th century culture that embraced rock and pop-culture music performances.

Bowser, Eileen. The Transformation of Cinema: 1907-1915. Vol. 2 of History of the American Cinema. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.

Casetti, Francesco. Eye of the Century: Film, Experience, Modernity.  New York, Columbia University Press, 2008. 

Kenyon, Leslie H. "Nomination Form: Madison Theatre." National Register of Historic Places. nps.gov. November 21, 1980. Digital copy located at http://gis.hpa.state.il.us/PDFs/200428.pdf

Wainscott, Ronald Harold. The Emergence of the Modern American Theater, 1914-1929. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997.

Photo Sources

Historic Madison Theater: From Landmarks Illinois via https://www.wglt.org/post/historic-madison-theater-damage-tops-half-million-dollars#stream/0

Madison Theater with name on facade: http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/2647/photos/9453

Madison Theater interior (date unknown): Peoria Public Library via http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/2647/photos/173426

1953 Photo of Peoria's Madison Theater: http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/2647/photos/165398

1921 photo with view of Madison Theater stage and and orchestra pit: http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/2647/photos/79287