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Entertainment Venues

Gallery 2

Palace Theater

In 1913 three men incorporated the Palace Amusement Corporation with the purpose of building a theater with Walter S. Butterfield as president, Fred E. Sterling as vice-president and Fred E. Carpenter as secretary. They hired George L. and C. W. Rapp of Chicago who specialized in theater design as the architects. The contractor of the Palace Theater project was the Pearce Brothers Company of Rockford. Construction soon began on the theater after the old four story building that was built in 1872 and formerly housed the Rockford Shoe Company on North Main Street was demolished. The North Main Street elevation of the new theater was three stories and basement in height, and designed in the early French Renaissance style. The entire front was brilliantly lighted from the broad marquis extending well over the sidewalk and from the boulevard lamps placed along the street curb. The Palace was part of the Junior Orpheum Circuit and opened its doors to the public on February 22, 1915. At 9 a. m. on opening day the box office was opened to sell tickets to the day’s opening performances at the theater and by 11 a. m. nearly 2,000 tickets had been sold. The opening day performances consisted of five different vaudeville acts.

Opened as a vaudeville house across the street from the Orpheum Theater entrance was made to the theater lobby by three wide doors under a canopy made of ornamental iron and glass which stretched to the curb and was upheld by large chains. The building in addition to the theater portion itself included ten offices, and three stores on the Main Street side and five smaller stores on the Wyman Street side of the building. Theater patrons approached the auditorium through an outer lobby which was finished with a rich Belgian and Italian white marble floor. The side walls were of marble and French Caen stone. The box office with windows for two sellers was on the right as one entered the lobby. From this lobby one passed into the grand inner lobby, which was two stories in height, extending through the mezzanine foyer of the balcony. The lobby was composed of a series of broad graceful arches, which supported a colonnade, giving a sense of delightful proportion and beauty. On each side the wide stairways extended to the foyer above which led to the balcony, and directly in front a spacious flight of marble steps entered the cross foyer in the rear of the auditorium. On each side a rich balustrade supported beautiful imported standards, with rich cut beaded lights. The electric fixtures throughout the theater were both massive and beautiful. The 1,200 lights in the theater were controlled from an immense switchboard on the stage. The main floor of the theater was concrete which was covered with cement paint, with the aisles being carpeted.

The auditorium proper consisted of the main orchestra floor and a balcony that overhung the auditorium half way so even the balcony seats were close to the stage. The total seating capacity of which was 1,400 with 750 opera style seats located on the main floor and an additional 650 balcony seats. There were no pillars or other obstacles to block the view so that there was not a bad seat in the whole theater. The interior decoration featured beautiful-toned panel treatment of silk damask on the side walls, contrasted with the rich antique ivory tones, softly blend with the old rose and gold hangings. The design was carried out in the early French period, with beautiful proportions, which gave a sense of spaciousness and comfort. The broad proscenium treatment on either side of the stage opening extended up and across the auditorium, forming a richly treated sounding board, with a beautiful mural painting. From this point the ceiling recedes to the rear of the auditorium, with a series of graceful arches, forming a contour which gave the most perfect results for acoustics. The seating throughout the auditorium was arranged on broad spacious lines for comfort and the chairs were upholstered in imported green leather. Special care had been taken care throughout the entire plan for safety of the public and the total aggregate exit space was more than twice the amount required by the stringent building ordinances of New York and Chicago at the time. The theater contained twelve exits arranged at regular intervals to ensure a quick escape should the need have ever arisen.

The stage proper was most completely equipped to handle all theatrical productions big or small. Acts on the stage were announced in “A. B. C.” order with electric box signs on either side of the stage. Special attention had been given to the comfort of the actors and the dressing rooms were well lighted, well ventilated and provided with hot and cold running water. The grand drapery in the upper part of the proscenium opening extends to a depth of six feet from the top and is most artistically designed, with the metal scalloping appliqued on the plush background in fanciful figures. A rich pearl carpet is laid in all of the aisles and the foyers. In the foyer, to the left was a bubbling drinking fountain. The manager’s office was to the right on the balcony floor. There were check rooms and numerous bathrooms for both men and women off the foyer on both the first and second floors. In the foyer, to the left was a bubbling drinking fountain. The manager’s office is to the right on the balcony floor. The ushers and doormen were uniformed.

Many well-known performers would play here such as Roy Rogers, Sammy Davis Jr., Harry Houdini, Jack Benny, Bob Hope, George Burns and Gracie Allen, the Hilton Sisters and the Marx Brothers were just a few of the thousands of performers that once graced the stage at the Palace Theater. During the 1930's the Palace would also add motion pictures to its mix of entertainment, usually with vaudeville acts performing before, after or in between films and later used almost exclusively as a motion picture house.

In the late 1920’s the Radio Keith Orpheum Company leased the theater so it had more outlets to show its studios RKO Pictures motion pictures. In the 1940’s Balabon and Katz signed a ten year lease on the theater. The Palace Theater would close in 1953 and was dismantled in 1955 with some of the scenery and lighting being acquired for use at the Wagon Wheel Resort.  The building with its 80 foot frontage on the North Main and Wyman Street sides and a depth of 156 feet was soon converted into a retail outlet for the F. W. Woolworth Company, the largest of its six Rockford stores. The Woolworth store would close in 1983 and the building was demolished as part of Rockford’s Urban Renewal program in 1984.

Palm Theater

The Palm Theater was designed by architect Frank A. Carpenter and financed by a syndicate known as the Palm Amusement Company. The theater was incorporated by Charles Lamb as president, Fred B. Sterling as vice president and Fred E. Carpenter as secretary. Charles Lamb had previously managed the Grand Opera House. Pearce Brothers served as the general contractors for the theater building. The auditorium of the theater was built on the west bank of the Rock River with the central entrance being at 105 West State Street in the remodeled building that formerly was occupied by the electric company offices. The theater auditorium was separate and distinct from the lobby. The auditorium had a seating capacity of 806 chairs all on one floor and the architect had given the nature of the seating close attention and had so arranged the chairs that a perfect view of the stage was obtained from any part of the auditorium. There was a gradual slope to the floor which gave those seated in remote parts of the auditorium the same view as was obtained by those in the front seats. Opera chairs of the latest design and were placed far enough apart to ensure comfort.

The stage of the theater was fitted with floodlights and a set of scenery. The motion picture screen was nine by twelve feet in size. A large $4,000.00 Kimball pipe organ was installed by the Kimball Company of Chicago while a locally manufactured Haddorff baby grand piano was also installed in the theater. The Palm Theater “The Theater Beautiful” would open to the public on December 1, 1913 on a less than favorable night weather wise to a packed house. The first movie shown at the Palm was the Vitograph feature, two thousand feet in length entitled “Wild Animals at Large”, a comedy picture showing the wreck of a circus train. A hundred animals escape and create havoc among the inhabitants and at the same time furnish them with amusement. With the anticipated increase in business with the opening of Camp Grant the Palm Amusement Company in July 1917 purchased a thirty four foot parcel of land fronting on the Rock River where a new addition to the theater would be built. The theater remodeling and enlargement plans were drawn up by well-known theater architects C. W. & George L. Rapp (Rapp & Rapp). Ninety nine new chairs would be added to the theater at this time bringing the total seating capacity to 905.

The Palm Theater would close its doors in June 1929. It would not be until 1931 when the movie house reopened under the management of Charles House under the name State Theater

State Theater

Charles House took ownership of the former Palm Theater in 1931 which had been closed for two years. A contest was held in July 1931 to give the former Palm Theater a new name and more than 1,400 entries were received out of which 400 contestants suggested the name of “State”. Most of the contestants selected State because of the location of the former Palm Theater on State Street and the popularity of the name among playhouses in practically all cities of the country. The simplicity of the name also was advanced as a reason for its choice. Letters from contestants were received from five states including Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Indiana and South Dakota. Judges who selected the winning name were Theodore Mendelsohn of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Company, Edward W. Johnson of Columbia Pictures and R. C. Trank of the Rockford Register Republic.

A new ‘Orthocrome’ motion picture screen was installed in the auditorium. The Orthocrome screen was the newest development of the Western Electric Company who had perfected a screen which offered pictures with brighter yet softer lighting effects. Large and heavily upholstered seats, offering the latest in theater comfort were installed replacing the old chairs. The seating arrangement afforded all patrons an excellent view from all parts of the auditorium. The lobby leading from the street to the auditorium was also extensively remodeled as was the auditorium itself. The 905 seat State Theater located at 105 West State Street would open to the public on September 20, 1931. The opening night movie was “Viennese Nights,” a romantic film adapted to the screen by Sigmund Romberg and Oscar Hammerstein, famous composers, was the opening attraction at the State Theater. Walter Pidgeon, Jean Hersholt, Louise Fazenda, Alice Day, Bert Roach and June Purcell were the principal players. Although the opening attraction was a first run movie, it was the plan of the theater to show second runs of all leading productions at reasonable prices to allow more people to enjoy the movies. "Good Shows at Reasonable Prices" was the theaters motto.

Charles F. House came to Rockford from Chicago in 1918 to be the organist at the Midway Theater when it first opened. He served as manager of the Midway as well as an organist during 1920 and 1921, but left Rockford after sound movies were introduced to the local screen. From Rockford Mr. House went to Peoria, then back to Chicago where he was an organist in a number of theaters and clubs. He returned in 1928 to take over the Midway Theater as owner. In 1931, he bought the Palm Theater, which he completely remodeled and opened under a new name, the State Theater. He sold the Midway Theater in 1933 to concentrate on the State Theater. He would form Charles House Enterprises and owned the State and Capitol theaters in Rockford, plus two in Monmouth, one in Canton and one in Belvidere. Along with his wife Margaret they would also form Margaret House Enterprises who owned various properties including the buildings on either side of the State Theater, including the building where Chas. V. Weise’s downtown location once was. Mr. House would move to California in 1936 but made regular trips back to Illinois. In October 1945 Mr. and Mrs. House sold a one third interest in the Charles House Enterprises operating the State and Capitol Theaters to Oscar Grandquist in appreciation for his long and faithful service as a manager of the two theaters. Grandquist had been associated with the theaters since 1932 working his way up from doorman to part owner.

The first public presentation of the Marx Brothers motion picture “Love Happy” was shown at the State Theater on June 15, 1949 before its nationwide release. As part of the festivities, Hollywood’s latest starlet who had a small part in the movie would arrive in Rockford on Sunday June 12, 1949 for a weeklong stay. The virtually unknown actress who would later become widely known was Marilyn Monroe. During her week stay she visited many facilities including schools, the children's home and even went swimming at a public pool for a photo shoot. She was on hand at the theater lobby for three days to promote the movie and sign autographs. At some of her photo shoots a “double” for Harpo Marx appeared with her.

Although the State Theater was built basically as a motion picture theater, it also had a small stage and sometimes celebrities would make appearances to promote their latest motion picture. Over the years the State Theater played host to such celebrities as Gene Autry and Roy Rogers in the 1930’s, Marilyn Monroe and Smiley Burnette in 1949, Rex Allen in 1951 and David Ladd, son of Alan Ladd in 1960 among others.

A Bob Anderson Photograph - 1946

Mr. House passed away at the age of 66 in September 9, 1952 and Oscar Grandquist would become owner of the State Theater. As part of the City of Rockford’s aggressive urban renewal program the State Theater would eventually become a victim in the 1970’s. Theater management hauled out the fixtures of the theater including the popcorn machine after playing the final show, and that ended the enterprise once known as the Palm and State Theaters. The theater which lasted through the depression and the advent of television was demolished in November 1976 to make way for the Luther Center, a high rise apartment building for the elderly.

Capitol Theater

Anthony Domino and Theodore Ingrassia would promote the idea of a theater in southwest Rockford on South Main Street who with their wives started the Ingrassia and Domino Corporation with a stock capitalization of $100,000. C. B. Anderson who owned the Dreamland Theater would become a partner in the company with a one third ownership stake. Rockford architect Wybe J. Van der Meer designed the theater in the atmospheric style which was popular at that time, while the Holmquist-Peterson Company was the general contractor of the fireproof two story building with 160 foot frontage along South Main Street and a depth of 165 feet. Despite the flavor of its origins, and despite the predominantly Italian neighborhood and clientele, the Capitol’s architecture was decidedly Spanish. The interior of the 1,000 seat auditorium represented a lush outdoor Spanish garden and one of the most ornate interiors in the city with overhead special effects installed to show gently drifting clouds under a blue sky dotted with stars, and a massive stage acoustically tuned to project a whisper. The theater had a large orchestra pit with a Kilgen pipe organ and a locally made Haddorff Grand piano that provided music for vaudeville shows.

The exterior was also Spanish, with the theater lobby fronting the street between the four copper faced store fronts. The street facade constructed of buff brick with blue mottled terra cotta trim was designed in the Spanish Colonial style with four arched windows over the main entrance. A modestly peaked parapet rose at the center of the structure, emphasizing four Terra-cotta medallions were symbolic of the theater world were embedded in the brick. Tucked between the likeness of Shakespeare and Bach and sharing prominence with the opera composer Verde, was none other than Calvin Coolidge who was President of the United States when the theater was built. A large electric sign of exceeding beauty was also affixed to the building. The building was topped off with a red Spanish style roof. Both motion pictures and vaudeville shows were shown here with five dressing rooms adjacent to the stage for use by visiting artists. Modern ventilation, heating and air conditioning systems were also installed. There were four apartments and three offices on the second floor.

The $175,000 Capitol Theater located at 1122 South Main Street would open its doors to the public on February 4, 1928 and scores of people gathered to sample the beautiful theater building on its opening day. The Capitol debuted that day with several live vaudeville acts and the first run motion picture “The Sky Raiders.” Later the theater would change owners several times including Charles House Enterprises in 1940 and J. J. McFarland Theaters of Rockford in the 1950’s. It continued to operate as a movie theater until 1970 when it was closed. The building still is in existence with retail stores on the ground level.

Rialto Theater

The Rialto Theater erected in 1927-1928 was built by Jasper St. Angel and Paul Latino and was located in the heart of the growing South Main Street’s expanding business and amusement center, and with the Morgan Street Bridge providing an easy access from the east side the theater had an admirable location at 1104 South Main Street at the corner with Morgan Street. St. Anger and Latino had purchased all of the property a year previously which contained three stores fronting Main Street, and a barn, ice house and a residence at the rear, all of which were razed to make way for the new theater. It is interesting to note that Wybe J. Van der Meer was selected as the original architect but later the plans were completely redrawn by Frederic J. Klein who also designed Rockford’s Coronado Theater. The building had a frontage of 156 feet fronting South Main Street had a 65 foot depth along the Morgan Street side of the structure.

Just like the Capitol Theater a few doors to the south, the Rialto Theater was built in a Spanish motif and located in a predominately Italian neighborhood. This theater would be built in the atmospheric style of theater that was popular during the time period. The interior was of Spanish architecture with Venetian lighting and a floating cloud and starlit sky ceiling effect.  The theater had a seating capacity of 1,200 seats in the auditorium with the main floor containing 900 seats while the balcony held 300 seats all with an uninterrupted view of the stage or screen. The theater was designed for both live shows such as vaudeville and motion pictures. The exterior was of terra cotta and tile along classic lines. The upper floors of the theater building contained ten three and four room apartments with kitchenettes and baths built to the most modern standards at the time.

The Rialto featured a balcony and a variety of gimmicks to lure patrons into the theater. One night each week a woman could get her free dish, to complete the set that grew so quickly because she would attend so often.

In the early 1950’s the theater was remodeled and the front of the theater was faced in Dura Stone giving the theater a modern look. The Rialto would close in 1960 and the theater became the Rockford Evangelical Center with Rev. James McFaddin as the pastor until 1966 when it again reopened as a theater under the Capri Theater name.

In 1970 the Capri closed its doors, and although the theater was rented out on occasion for talent shows or concerts the building fell into disrepair and the building was demolished in 1980.

Royal Theater

The Seventh Street business district was growing and Carl Noren, a Seventh Street restaurant and boarding house owner decided to sell his restaurant and open a theater. Designed by local architects Peterson & Johnson with Homer & Helson as general contractors, a fireproof building with a frontage of 33 feet on Seventh Street and a depth of 112 feet began to rise at 322 Seventh Street. The façade of the Prairie Style building was of an artistic design of pressed brick and stone trimmings. There was an arched ceiling the entire length of the building. The theater featured a compact stage for small acts and the motion picture screen on the east end of the building as well as a Packard piano. Large comfortable and roomy opera chairs were installed in the well ventilated structure. The 510 seat Royal Theater would open to the public on September 12, 1914 to capacity crowds. Noren however would sell his interests in the Royal Theater to Albin and Hilmar Johnson, two brothers who also owned the Olympic Theater, and return to the restaurant business in August 1915. In September 1916 Noren would sell the building housing the Royal Theater to John F. Walsh. Charles Lamb the owner of the Palm Theater would take over the lease on the Royal Theater effective January 1, 1920.

Strand - Roxy Theaters

In January 1920 the new owners of the Royal Theater, the Palm Amusement Company would close the theater for remodeling and installation of the newest model of screen and projection equipment while the interior was completely remodeled and a new lighting system installed. It would reopen as the Strand Theater on February 12, 1920 to a capacity crowd. The opening attraction at the Strand was “The Miracle Man” starring Thomas Meighan and Betty Compson. Over the years the theater showed a variety of motion pictures including many Swedish films and vaudeville shows. In 1929 the theater installed the necessary equipment for “talking” pictures and once again remodeled the theater.

Charles Lamb, head of the Palm Amusement Company sold his theater interests in 1931 including the Strand Theater. The former Strand would open under the Roxy Theater name on October 2, 1931 with new management. I was not able to locate the names of the new owners. The Seventh Street theater would remain in operation until 1938 when the theater was once again sold and closed.

Rex Theater

After undergoing a complete renovation including new RCA sound equipment and fully upholstered seats with spring cushions, the Rex Theater would reopen on August 18, 1939 operated by E. E. Mitterling in the former Roxy Theater space. The feature movie on opening night was “You Can’t Take It With You” starring Lionel Barrymore and Jean Arthur heading an all-star cast.

The Rex Theater would play its final movie in December 1957 when the theater closed. In June 1958 Ray Fisher owner of Fisher’s Office Equipment would purchase the building. Fisher’s business was located across the street at 309 Seventh Street and needed room for expansion. The theater was gutted and remodeled into the new retail store for Fisher’s Office Equipment which opened in January 1959 during its 25th business anniversary.

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