Saturday, January 19, 2013

201 North Neil Street - Walker Opera House/Hamilton Hotel

Walker Opera House
Constructed: abt. 1887
Razed: abt 1917 (Razed)

The Walker Opera House was Champaign's first grand theaters constructed solely for stage performances.  Until this time, performances would often take place in the upper floors of buildings.  Most notable at this time were Barrett Hall at 1 Main Street and the Eichburg Opera House at 22 East Main Street.  The Walker, when constructed, would have been one of the most impressive buildings in the entire city.  However, records recount a less than comfortable interior.  As you see by the maps below, it appears that the building was initially the Armory and horse stables.  That use was short lived as the 1897 Sandborn Maps clearly mark the building as an opera house, complete with balconies.  Stories tell of the oppressive heat inside the building over the summer months and more than a few rodents gracing the premise.  However, I am sure this was overlooked considering what a treat it must have been to have a performance center of this size in the community.

This 1887 Sandborn map is the first time the building shows up.  It is marked
here as an Armory/Opera House.  It notes "carriage repository and stable 1st" 

by 1897, the building is clearly marked as the Walker Opera House.  You can
note the curvature of the balcony in the dashed line. 

The seating plan for the Walker Opera House.

The balcony seating chart as scanned from an early Champaign Directory

The Walker sitting on the northwest corner of Neil and Park Streets during
a Fourth of July parade.
Photo courtesy of the Champaign County Historical Archives

View of Neil Street looking south from Main Street showing the Walker and Lewis
and Company department store in context.
Photo courtesy of the Champaign County Historical Archives

This photo of the devestating Lewis and Company Department Store fire on
St. Patricks Day (March 15, 1917) shows how the Walker lot had been razed
just prior to this fire.  Remains of the Neil Street facade still cling to the
Woolworth Building (left)
Photo courtesy of the Champaign Fire Department

Hamilton Hotel

Constructed: 1917
Razed: Partially (top 2 floors) 1977

The Hamilton Hotel situated next door to the Glick Building (or Woolworth Store).
Photo courtesy of the Champaign County Historical Archives

This fire is one of three know fires that occured at the Hamtilton.
Photo courtesy of the Champaign Fire Department

This photo is one of the best that exists of the original Hamilton Hotel structure.
You can compare this photo to the later photo in this series showing the recently
removed facade panels.  These ground floor bays still exist in 2013.

Photo courtesy of the Champaign County Historical Archives

This photos shows working being done on the first facade alteration of the
Hamilton Hotel.  Note the Kroger Grocery Store and Woolworth shores in the
adjacent storefronts.
Photo courtesy of the Scholem Family

This photo places the Hamilton Hotel in context with Neil Street.  This shot
is looking south from Main Street. The Hamilton is just left of center.
Photo courtesy of the Champaign County Historical Archives

This photo shows the Hamilton Hotel (left) looking east down Park Street
toward Neil Street.
Photo courtesy of the Champaign County Historical Archives

This photo shows the eastern facade of the Hamilton Hotel.  The photo is taken
on Taylor Street looking west toward the intersection of Neil and Taylor Streets.
Photo courtesy of Brandon Haist

This photo from the 1950/60s shows the closed Woolworth store.
Walgreen;s would expand through the northern wall of the Hamilton
Hotel and enlarge their store.
Photo courtesy of Jim Greenfield

A late 60s/early 70s view of Park Street looking west from Neil Street. The
Hamilton Hotel is to the right pf the photo.
Photo courtesy of the Champaign County Historical Archives

A view of the ground floor Walgreen's as seen from the Neil Street Pedestrian
Mall.  The Mall was completed in 1976 and removed 10 years later.  This
Walgreen's was the largest in Champaign until the 1977 fire forced its relocation.
Photo courtesy of the City of Champaign

This view shows the Hamilton Hotel peaking above the large shelter
constructed in the center of the Neil Street Pedestrian Mall.  This shot was
taken from the City Building looking north from Chester Street.
Photo courtesy of the City of Champaign

Fire at the Hamilton Hotel on July 22, 1977.  The fire was determined to be
an arson fire.  At the time of this fire the Hamilton was operating as an extended
stay senior living facility/Hotel.
Photo courtesy of the Champaign County Historical Archives

The building as it appeared following the 1977 fire.  The building was home
to Chicago Title Company until their relocation in the Fall 2012.
Photo courtesy of  Terry J. Blakeman
The false facade installed in the 1970s was removed in the winter of 2012
to reveal the original ground floor masonry of the Hamilton Hotel.  The
building is slated for renovation in the near future.
Photo courtesy of Terry J. Blakeman


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  2. Amazing photos! The Champaign Opera House must have been wondrous back in it's hay-day! I can only imagine the various performances staged on that building. How sad that those amazing pieces of the early 20th century architecture are now just visible form those well-preserved photos. Anyway, it must have been quite a task in arranging and collecting those photos. Kudos to you!

    Ruby Badcoe @ Williams Data Management