Local Senate candidates to debate in historic venue

By Anna Yee

October 3, 2012 Updated Oct 3, 2012 at 10:43 PM CDT

PEORIA, Ill. -- There's nothing like a trip to the movies.

In downtown Peoria, there's a place where you can still get that classic, old movie feel.

The Apollo Theatre first opened in 1914, then closed in the late 50's.

Parts of the building were torn down and neglected, until some 40 years later.

That's when current owner Tom Leiter stepped inside and had a vision to re-build the Apollo into what it used be, a traditional movie theatre.

"There had been so much history lost here in Peoria that we felt this was a worthy project to undertake and preserve for the future," said Leiter.

Using old photographs, Leiter and his family restored the Apollo to its original appearance, from the ornate plaster cornucopias to the mosaic lobby walls.

Since the first theatre area no longer existed, the balcony became what's now the 160-seat theatre.

"The fact that this was built as a movie house, strictly for movies, is historic in of it itself," said Leiter. "That was a time when movies were emerging. They were taking over the live performance vaudeville venues, so it's very historic for that reason."

Leiter wanted to preserve history not only within the Apollo theatre, but he wanted to restore history on the entire block.

Leiter says almost all the buildings on the 300 block of Main Street are originals from the 1800s.

He was one of the main advocates for helping the city restore these original lamp posts.

"This is the only place I think in the city where these light fixtures now appear," said Leiter.

Leiter says if it wasn't for rent from the building's other tenants, and its solid base of volunteers, it would be impossible to keep the non-profit theatre running.

The Apollo also hosts other events, like weddings and political debates, which also help keep alive a piece of the past.

"If it were not for the Apollo here," said Leiter, "no one, at least in Peoria, would have the opportunity to be inside and enjoy this history. "

Tune into the 46th District Senate Debate live from the Apollo Theatre tonight at 7:00 p.m. on WEEK-TV.