Kaid Benfield Archive


A tale too typical: the endangered Heart Theater in Effingham, IL

Kaid Benfield

Posted June 30, 2008 at 1:14PM

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Effingham's Heart Theater (by: BWChicago, creative commons license)Over the weekend my colleague on the LEED for Neighborhood Development Core Committee, Ken Potts, e-mailed me and others about another of the country’s historic movie houses at risk of demolition.  It wouldn’t take all that much money to save it:  Ken reports that, at Saturday’s auction, no one met even the minimum bid of $110,000. 

My guess is that, given the trend back to town center living and shopping, the Heart could house a viable entertainment business in only a few years if someone has what is called in the real estate biz “patient capital.” 


Effingham is a small city of just over 12,000 residents in south-central Illinois and the home of, among other notables, former NBA center Uwe Blab.  It has other historic properties as well, such as the county court house you see with this paragraph.  Effingham County courthouse (by: Gerald Roll; public domain)According to the local newspaper, theater owner Mark McSparin had received many inquiries about the Heart, and was quoted as being optimistic about the auction.  Unfortunately, that didn’t pan out, and now the building may be dismantled and sold in pieces, destroying its historic identity.

The web site Cinema Treasures reports that the Heart Theater, which opened in 1941, was an early example of adaptive reuse of an existing structure, built inside what had formerly been a garage.   The theater originally contained 750 seats, but was downsized to 500 seats in the 1970s.  The Heart closed around 2002, reopened in 2003 and was closed again in 2007.  Comments on CT’s web site reveal more about the Theater’s history and viability as well community interest.

If you know anyone who might be interested in saving the Heart Theater, please get in touch, and I will give you the relevant contact information.

All of us know stories of historic Main Streets and historic theaters that have been lost in the past decades.  Cinema Treasures, which is dedicated to saving the country’s great “movie palaces,” has a “most endangered” list along with updates on news of both restorations and demolitions.  It’s a noble effort by a couple of dedicated enthusiasts, and I hope they make a difference.  It would help make our communities more sustainable in a very literal way.