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Bloomington-Normal, Illinois

Rediscovering McLean County's Old Theatres: A Journey Through Time and Culture

In the heart of Illinois lies McLean County, a region steeped in history and culture, where time seems to stand still in its charming old theatres. Each venue holds within its walls stories of laughter, tears, and the performing arts. Let’s take a journey through these nostalgic landmarks, from the grandeur of the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts to the quaint allure of the Princess Theatre in Leroy, and the vintage charm of the Castle Theatre in downtown Bloomington, culminating in the timeless elegance of the Normal Theatre in Normal, IL.

Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts

The Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts (BCPA) has a rich history dating back to its construction in 1921 as the American Passion Play’s home. Renamed and repurposed over the years, it now stands as a beacon of artistic expression in the community. Once the focal point of Bloomington-Normal’s cultural life, hosting everything from symphonies to weddings, the BCPA underwent a significant restoration in the early 2000s.

Supported by the City of Bloomington and the Cultural District Commission, the BCPA’s renovation aimed to enhance the city’s arts resources and revitalize the downtown area. Today, it continues to serve as a hub for performing and visual arts, arts education, and community events. With a diverse range of programming, including national and international touring artists, seminars, presentations, and more, the BCPA remains committed to enriching the cultural landscape of Bloomington-Normal.

600 N East St, Bloomington, IL 61701

(309) 434-2777


The LeRoy Princess Theatre, LeRoy IL

The LeRoy Princess Theatre, established in 1916 by Marcus West, has seen numerous transformations over the years. Initially a silent movie house with piano accompaniment, it gradually evolved with technological advancements and changing ownership. John Frieburg, who operated the theater for decades, infused it with care and innovation, even using duct tape to keep it in top condition. Later owners like Karen Edwards and Maurice Schiff left their marks, but it was the Hanafin family who truly made it a community asset, preserving its legacy. Today, under their stewardship, the theater remains a beloved family-run establishment, offering not just movies but also birthday parties and free screenings. With each chapter of its history, the Princess Theatre has continued to adapt while holding onto its nostalgic charm.

300 E. Center St. P.O. Box 234 LeRoy, IL 61752

Phone: 309-468-0187


Castle Theatre, Downtown Bloomington

The Castle Theater, nestled in Bloomington’s downtown, has a rich history dating back to its opening in 1916. As a beloved part of the community, it has witnessed countless dreams and memories unfold within its ornate walls. Over the years, it evolved into a premier destination, serving as a cornerstone of Bloomington’s cultural scene.

Recently, the Castle underwent a remarkable transformation with a $1.5 million renovation, restoring it to its former grandeur. Today, it stands as a beacon in Bloomington’s Cultural District, offering a diverse array of entertainment options for residents and visitors alike. From live music to corporate events, the Castle continues to be a vital hub of cultural life in the region.

209 E Washington St Ste 1, Bloomington, IL 61701

(309) 820-0352


Normal Theatre, Normal IL

Since its opening in 1937, the Normal Theater in Normal, IL has been a cornerstone of the community, offering classic, independent, and foreign films for over 25 years. Initially facing challenges common to pre-World War II theaters, including neglect and closure, the theater was eventually revitalized and restored to its former glory.

Built by Sylvan and Ruth Kupfer, the theater’s Art Moderne architectural style and state-of-the-art sound system made it a standout in the region. Over the years, it became more than just a movie theater, hosting community events and special screenings. Despite changing ownership and the rise of multiplex cinemas, the Normal Theater persevered, becoming a cultural icon in Uptown Normal. Its restoration in 1994 garnered accolades, including a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

Today, the Normal Theater continues to offer a unique cinematic experience, showcasing a diverse range of films and hosting special events. As it celebrates its 25th anniversary since reopening, the theater remains a cherished community treasure, welcoming moviegoers to enjoy timeless classics and contemporary favorites alike.

209 W North St, Normal, IL 61761

(309) 454-9722


McLean County’s old theatres stand as living testaments to the rich cultural heritage of the region, preserving the magic of live performance and cinematic artistry for future generations to enjoy. Whether you’re seeking a night of entertainment or simply yearning to immerse yourself in history, these historic venues offer a journey through time and culture that is not to be missed. So, the next time you find yourself in McLean County, be sure to pay a visit to these enchanting landmarks and experience the magic for yourself.

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