Wednesday, June 29, 2005
Anna, IL: That's what I said
Midwesterners may recall radio ads for Bunny Bread that culminated in a bass voice drawling the slogan, "That's what ah said!" Well, the drawl comes natchul--Anna, Illinois, the home of the Bunny Bakery, is pretty near the southern tip of the state and thus not far from Kentucky. The bakery has Anna's most distinctive neon sign. It may look pretty plain at rest, but it gets extra points for animation when it's lit up and the bunny's left ear wiggles.
Another neon treat can be found at the Anna Plaza Motel, which tempts travelers with "Modern electrically heated TV."
Anna's hands-down-coolest mid-century artifact, however, is probably not long for this world. The Rodgers Theatre, built in 1937, had a bold Vitrolite facade and a colorful marquee that welcomed moviegoers for over sixty years (the black-and-white photo below is from 1948, when Yvonne DeCarlo was seen onscreen in "River Lady" as a character amusingly named "Sequin"). My 1997 photo (the second one, below) was taken when the Rodgers was going in and out of business as the ever-changing management was contemplating turning the balcony into a second screening room. (At one point, the marquee advertised "free theatre seats," but a call to the accompanying number got me nowhere.) The fancy diamond pattern on the facade was now gone, but most of the Vitrolite around the logo remained. I don't get down to Anna often, but when I meet people from the area I always ask about it. One couple told me they'd seen "Titanic" there, so there must have been one more burst of activity at the Rodgers. My most recent visit, in September '04, was sobering (last photo, below). The majority of the Vitrolite has fallen off--possibly shaken loose when the adjacent building was demolished--and people in the know say the city is eager to get the theatre torn down too. They say it's an eyesore, and at this point it is. But how's the interior? Is the roof sturdy? Did the Vitrolite tiles fall onto the marquee, and are they still in one piece? The facade will never be as beautiful as it once was, but they could cover it up with something cheap and decent. The marquee is still in pretty good shape!
An idea: If the building can't be salvaged, at least save the marquee. There are a couple of theatre chains actively building small multiplexes in southern Illinois towns, and Anna would be a good location for one of these. Restore the Rodgers marquee and use it on a new cinema to give it a little old-school charm.