The owner of the Heart Theatre received a formal letter this week from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. In the letter dated June 16, 2023, National Register Coordinator Andrew Heckenkamp notes that “the property referenced above was listed in the National Register of Historic Places by the United States Department of the Interior.”

Regional community leaders, including Heart Theatre owner Amy Van Bergen, began the process to apply for the National Register designation last summer. The National Register of Historic Places is a federal program, and all applicants go through similar procedures. Except for properties located on federal or tribal lands, applications for properties are initiated in the state in which the property is located. The nomination process is multi-step, and The Heart Theatre was nominated for its unique architecture. The Illinois State Preservation Office, in its state board presentation on Feb. 24, 2023, noted that its historical significance was based on its architecture (criterion C in the application), most notably its 1940 Art Moderne style, a form of Art Deco that includes: terra cotta tiles, block glass, stainless steel, neon marquee, fluting, chevrons, and etched glass. The United States Department of the Interior approved the Illinois State Preservation Office’s unanimous recommendation to list The Heart Theatre on the National Register of Historic Places, effective April 12, 2023. The Heart joins the Effingham County Cultural Center and Museum as well as the Dr. Charles M. Wright house, the other two county listings on the Register.

“From fabulous memories can come a once in a generation project,” said Springfield IL-based architect Charles Joseph Pell referring to his friend Amy Van Bergen’s lifelong appreciation for The Heart Theatre.  Pell’s firm has been partnering with local leaders on next steps for the renovations and restoration of the historic building.   Pell noted, “great projects start with involved clients and Amy’s persistence and passion for this project at all levels is why it will be a success.”

“Like almost everyone in Effingham, I love The Heart Theatre and can’t wait to see it brought back to life,” Van Bergen said. “This designation is just one step of many in restoring The Heart. The first step last fall was the public meeting and community surveys to help determine programming and amenities for The Heart, next we worked on getting the property listed in the National Register, and the third step will be preparing to donate the property to a local nonprofit.”

Nicole Wear-Maloney, a teacher for Unit 40 schools who has been volunteering on The Heart project the past few months, said: “This is going to be quite a journey to get the lights back on. I’m excited about what it will mean to the community overall and to our children especially.” Maloney’s husband, Tim, president of The Car Company of Effingham, added: “As a businessman here in town, I believe the historic Heart Theatre is going to play a critical role in the vitality of our downtown as well as what it will mean to our residents and visitors.”

Interested area residents are encouraged to subscribe for updates on the efforts at