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Madison Theater Featured in New Book on Old Movie Palaces

Photo of the Madison Theater recently taken by Matt Lambros
Matt Lambros Photography - USED WITH PERMISSION
Photo of the Madison Theater recently taken by Matt Lambros

Downtown Peoria's Madison Theater is featured in a new book on abandoned movie theaters.

Matt Lambros is the author of “After the Final Curtain: America’s Abandoned Theaters.” He recently went into the theater to take photos.

It's one of 20 theaters he profiled. Lambros said the Madison was "an astounding place to find." 

“Most theater projection booths, the windows are blacked out, but for some reason the Madison’s wasn’t. So you get this stream of daylight coming in and illuminating the place. So it’s almost like a spotlight right on the stage," Lambros said. 

He said there's a light pink paint covering much of the theater's interior, with hints of ornate plasterwork hidden beneath. 

The Madison Theater was built in 1920. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places.

But it closed in 2003 after a second life as a concert venue. The theater sustained heavy damage in a 2016 arson fire, but avoided the wrecking ball when the Madison's owners fixed it up enough to avoid imminent demolition.

Lambros said while he realizes not every old movie palace will come back, he’s seen other historic theaters in a similar state of deterioration come back, either as new arts centers or repurposed for new usage. 

“Adaptive reuse is a great way to honor the past while moving forward. I feel a lot of people don’t look into that," he said. 

Lambros says one old theater in San Diego was converted into a Barnes and Noble bookstore, with the vintage movie screen still intact. Others have seen similar reutilizations. 

He said he was fascinated by old buildings from a young age.

But for a kid who grew up watching films in multiplexes, Lambros said movie theaters were particularly special. 

"They were sort of a place where people went out, they dressed up. Movies were a communal event. For someone my age, in my mid-30s, that changed," he said. 

This is the third book Lambros has written on old theaters across the United States and Britain. 

"After the Final Curtain" comes out November 5.  

Copyright 2021 WCBU. To see more, visit WCBU.

Tim Shelley is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.