Wildey Theatre

Edwardsville, Illinois | C.1909

Photo Credit: Stephanie Smith

Look closely at the facade of the Wildey Theatre in Edwardsville, Illinois and one will see the letters “IOOF” inscribed on a large cornice at the top of the building. Belonging to the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF), the letters symbolize the Theatre’s beginnings as an opera house and meeting hall for the centuries-old fraternal organization.

While the IOOF’s origins date back to England in the early 18th century, the Order didn’t reach American shores until 1819. Established in America by Thomas Wildey, for whom the Theater is named, the IOOF first started in Baltimore before expanding across the country. It is the first fraternity in the U.S. to include women, and its motto is “Friendship, Love, and Truth.”

When the IOOF organized in Edwardsville, it needed a place to meet. Designed by architect George H. Kennerly and opened in 1909, the Wildey Theatre provided both a place for meetings and a venue for operas, concerts, and theatrical performances. Thirty years after its first opera, it was remodeled in an Art Deco style and received a new marquee.

As motion pictures gained popularity, the Wildey eventually switched over to screening movies. For over 50 years, it served as downtown Edwardsville’s cinematic attraction until its eventual closing. During its final years, the Wildey became a bargain house with 99 cent tickets, and it’s final film screening was “The Big Chill” in 1984.

Now an Edwardsville Local Landmark, the 325-seat Wildey Theatre is busier than ever. After undergoing renovations in 2009, it has been transformed into a multipurpose venue, and is once again hosting performing arts shows, theatrical performances, and classic movie screenings.

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