Revitalizing Our Coronado Theatre The Plans to Preserve
Rockford's Historical Landmark...Now Reopened!
By: John Shepler
was an energized era of grand dreams that built the great theaters
in America. On stage, fantasy worlds emerged in splendor to reinforce
what people wanted to believe in their hearts...that anything,
yes anything is possible. The magnificence of the showplaces,
the buzz of excitement in the downtown nights, the unforgettable
experience of being immersed in the presentation of a major stage
show. For many cities this is a fading memory, and one not to
be experienced by coming generations. Or is it?
There is such a theater, the Coronado, in my hometown of Rockford,
IL. It is one of the fortunate ones. It has friends in the community
who have come together in a mission to preserve this historic
landmark and expand its capabilities. It will again be both a
structure of beauty and a modern facility that is constantly
in demand. They offered to share their vision in a behind the
scenes tour, and I was intrigued to join in, and also to be able
to share my experiences with you.
Enter the Coronado Theatre and you step into a world of grandeur.
The European crystal chandelier in the reception hall sparkles
with over a ton of cut glass. The stairways are marble. The walls
are gilded plaster, carved with scallop shells and faces of the
famous. There is Coronado, the namesake of the theater. Over
there is Abe Lincoln, our President from Illinois. The stage
is framed in a beautiful proscenium arch, flanked by Italian
villages with box seats that hover over the side aisles. It is
old world craftsmanship brought to the new world by a generation
of skilled immigrants whose touch has been lost with their passing,
and whose meticulous hours of labor we could no longer afford
even if offered.
When it was built in 1927, the Coronado Theatre was a crown
jewel of downtown Rockford. It was known as "Rockford's
Wonder Theatre." It was also state of the art in atmospheric
theaters of the time. The Frank Adam Electric Co. light board
back stage is a rock solid floor to ceiling wall of lights and
levers that still function after 70 some years. The fly system
for scenery is a tidy collection of ropes and weights routed
overhead. Above the audience, electric stars twinkle in the simulated
night sky. The Italian villages glow in soft colors from indirect
lighting, suggesting twilight in Venice.
In the orchestra pit stands what must be the most precious
crown jewel of all, the Grande Barton Pipe Organ. Vital to the
silent films that were shown in the late 20's, it was also there
to accompany Vincent Price, the Marx Brothers and Donald O'Conner,
Rudy Vallee and others. Theater organs such as the Grand Barton
and Wurlitzer could simulate any instrument or an entire orchestra
with their almost limitless combinations of keys, pedals and
stops, and all by simply moving air.
As I stand center stage facing the arc of 2400 seats, I hear
our tour guide, Gwen, talking about the restoration, how they'll
push back the far wall so that major New York Productions will
have room for their entire productions, instead of having to
leave truckfulls of props unloaded. The seats will be reupholstered,
the plaster cleaned and repaired. Once air conditioning is installed
for the first time, they'll be able to offer summer performances.
The Rockford Symphony will make this their permanent home, as
will many other performing groups. The stage will come alive
at least 159 times a year, and the Coronado Theatre will help
restore the vigor of a metropolitan downtown at night.
There will be an elevator added and access for those physically
challenged. Nine apartments on the second floor, once highly
desired by young professional women with careers in the office
buildings nearby, will be refurbished into badly needed dressing
rooms. The owner's art deco apartment, with its curved walls
and large living room, will become a museum to preserve part
of the light board, the fly system and other historical treasures,
as they are modernized for today's productions. The roof will
be made sound again, and the water damage that has left gaping
holes in the upper hallways and even the reception hall, will
But what is the cost? Will it be a worthwhile investment?
Yes. The estimated $14 million will come half from community
donations, with a matching amount from the city. That figure
might take your breath away, until you realize that to tear it
down and put up a modern, less ornate, performing arts center
that could host the same functions would cost $30 million. To
build the Coronado Theatre from scratch on a vacant lot, to its
original drawings, if it were even possible, would raise that
figure to $70 million.
Restoration is a not just a good idea, it is a good investment.
The painstaking craftsmanship that was bought for $1.5 million
in 1927 is worth 50 times that today, providing you can find
people with the skills to recreate the art as it was designed.
This is probably the most serious consideration. We protect the
works of the great masters in climate controlled museums because
we value the art for its own merit. Why not afford the same consideration
to art as architecture?
It is something we can enjoy now and for generations to come.
Also visit these related sites:
Friends of the Coronado present the history, preservation
efforts and many beautiful photos of this historic theater. Thank
you to the Friends and Nels Akerlund for the photo of the interior
of the Coronado Theatre shown on this page. Thanks also to Paul
Baits and Steve Tamborello of Sundstrand Corporation for arranging
our bus tour. Note: the Coronado Theatre
hosted a gala reopening on January 21, 2001, following extensive
Note: The Barton Organ console at the Coronado Theatre
has been repainted to its original colors (gold and a special
crackled red finish done by the same process Barton originally
used) and should be grander than ever. Thanks to Bob Bates, President,
Land of Lincoln Theatre Organ Society (LOLTOS).