The Majestic Theatre in Paxton, Illinois (just North of Champaign) was the largest and most impressive theater when it opened in 1913, with a seating capacity of just over 350. It was designed by the firm of Mesar, Hunt and Sullivan for A.B. McCollum, who owned a handful of area theaters then.
The Majestic Building contained not only the theater but storefronts as well. Some of its interior plaster styles and metalwork were based on what the architects saw in a downtown Chicago theater. The theatre initially presented both vaudeville and concerts on its tiny stage, in addition to movies. The last vaudeville act at the Majestic was in 1929.
In 1930, the theatre was wired for sound after being closed for about a year for remodeling.
When the theater reopened, it had a new name, the New Paxton Theater (the original choice was the New Wonder Theater, but it was changed at the last minute). A new marquee was also put up around this time.
Not long after the name change, another name change occured, this time as the Paxtonian Theater. In 1935, air-conditioning was installed, and by this time, the theater was simply called the Paxton Theater, the name it would continue to be known for nearly five decades.
In the 50s, Cinemascope and Vistavision films played on Paxton's screen. By the end of the 70s, however, business was falling off at the theater, despite blockbusters like "Rocky" and "Star Wars" having successful runs there.
Its new owner in 1983 attempted to lure in new patrons by remodeling the aging theater, installing new seating and restoring the marquee, but the Paxton was closed within a year.
Four years later, Scott Graham and the newly formed Majestic Paxton Theater Group reopened the theater. The group, besides renaming the theater once again, the Majestic Paxton, further restored the theater, and seating was reduced to 219.
The Majestic Paxton hosted dinner theater, live performances, children's theater, and film screenings for many years but was closed in 2005.
A word from Scott Graham, who remodeled and reopened the Majestic Paxton theater in the fall of 1983.
Hello. My name is Scott Graham. I am the one who kept a promise to my community, Paxton, remodeled and reopened the long-time closed Majestic Paxton theater in the fall of 1983. I wish to clarify that business at the Majestic Paxton theater was very, very good.I keep reading articles that I closed the theater because it could just not make it. This is totally untrue. The theater was shut down by the then real estate owner for perceived frivolous reasons, against my will. Had this unfortunate event not happened, I guarantee that the Majestic Paxton theater would still be open, thriving, and continuing to serve the Paxton community and area.I understand this Grand Lady is again abandoned and in disrepair, bringing sorrow to my heart. I pray someone will again fall in love with Her and give Her the attention she deserves. Paxton, you have a real jewel under your noses. Please don't lose Her forever this time! —February 14, 2007
The Historic Majestic Paxton Theatre was Destroyed by Fire on November 13, 2007.
PAXTON, IL — A fire Tuesday morning completely destroyed the historic Paxton Majestic Theatre building, which included the theater space and apartments on the upper floor. Firefighters from six area departments fought the blaze and saved nearby buildings from destruction. No one was injured in the fire. By Tuesday afternoon, firefighters were still on the scene, as the remains of the theater continued to smoke. The cause of the fire is still under investigation, according to the State of Illinois fire marshal's office.
The Paxton Majestic, also known as the New Paxton, Paxtonian and Majestic Theatre, originally opened in 1913 in a building dating to the 19th century. It was last used in 2005 for live theatrical stage productions.
Paxtonians are shocked and mourning the loss of a Paxton landmark. Rhonda Blackford, who works across the street from the theater building at a florist shop, says, "It was just so sad to see something so historical go up so fast."
The Paxton Majestic burned to the ground in a blaze on Tuesday, November 13, 2007.
Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.