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Entertainment Venues

Gallery 3

Coronado Theater

Designed by by architect Frederick J. Klein in the atmospheric style that was popular for movie palaces in the 1920s. Construction of the Coronado Theater began in 1925. After the construction of the foundation was completed, the steel skeleton was erected. The firm of A. C. Wood and Company of Rockford was responsible for the steelwork. Four hundred tons of structural steel was used in the construction of the theater. Five roof trusses, each 116 feet long, 14 feet high and weighing 14,000 pounds are supported by ten steel legs.

The concrete balcony rests on a massive steel framework. A 10 ton plate girder supports the structure above the proscenium arch. This picture shows workmen building the forms for the concrete balcony.

The orchestra pit of the Coronado Theater shown here during construction, its space would be shared with the console for the Grand Barton Organ, to the left of the pit is the area occupied by dressing rooms. In the background we can see the Tebala Shrine Temple.

In this view of the Coronado Theater under construction it shows the dressing room area and some of the supports for the stage as the workers pause to look at the camera.

While the construction was taking place, a contest was organized to pick a name for the new theater and by May 4, 1927 the name Coronado had been chosen. The prize, $300.00, was shared by Mr. Harry L. Wolfe and Mr. Lawrence Sandwick, both of Rockford. Mr. Wolfe entered the name “Coronado” while Mr. Sandwick submitted the winning slogan, “Rockford’s Wonder Theater.” The contest was conducted by the Register-Gazette for the Great States Theaters, Inc. and the Rockford Enterprises, Inc. More than 3,000 entries were entered in the contest.

After the steel frame, roof and outside work were completed in the spring of 1927, the Walter Scott Bell Company took over and finished the inside of the building with the plaster castings and sculptures we see today. Mr. Bell had facilities located in New York, Chicago and Rockford. To accomplish the work the interior of the theater was filled with scaffolding. The castle like domes and turrets add to the décor of the Coronado Theater. It is an interesting fact that the structures are complete. The back sides of the buildings are finished although completely hidden from the audience.

In 1910 Dan Barton got the idea of making a small keyboard which could swing over the upper half of a piano keyboard and thus provide a means of adding sound effects – marimba, xylophone, glockenspiel and various tones of organ pipes to the piano, these were built in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. By 1920 Barton began with serious pipe organs, getting most of the organ from the Wangerin Company in Milwaukee. Barton began to make an organ with the keyboard in the shape of a horseshoe, which became standard for all Barton Organs. The largest Grande Barton Pipe Organ built to date at that time by the Barton Organ Company was shipped in five railroad boxcars from Oshkosh to Rockford to be installed in the Coronado Theater. The portion of the organ shown here was known as the console.

The organ is located in two rooms called chambers. A chamber is located behind the oriental grills on either side of the stage. Each chamber is sealed off from the auditorium by a wall of movable shades which are like oversized venetian blinds. These shades can be controlled from the console and moving them enables the performer to regulate the volume of sound from the chamber.

In addition to musical tones produced by the pipework, this organ contains many sound effects. Located in the right hand or solo chamber this picture shows sleigh bells, a cymbal, a tom-tom, castanets, fire gong, siren, Klaxon horn and tambourine. Probably the greatest change in show business to be experienced by the Coronado was in 1928 when the movies found a voice. Before talkies the theater was alive with activity late each Saturday night, while organists perfected their sound effects for the opening of the next week’s picture. The art of creating sound effects was highly developed before sound movies appeared. After the movies were given a voice, the organ’s contribution to the show steadily diminished until it finally ceased to be used. Many organists lost their jobs and some took to the road to make a living. The great Jesse Crawford, once the staff organist at the Paramount Theater in New York City, was one of the latter. The first concert of that part of his career was performed on the organ right here at the Coronado.

Willard Van Matre, Jr. who was president of the Schumann Piano Company was the owner of the Coronado Theater

By October 9, 1927 the work was finished, the organ installed, a name chosen, and a show organized. The 2,556 seat Coronado, “Rockford’s Wonder Theater” located at 314 North Main Street opened its doors to the public for the first time. According to one report the line of people extended south along Main Street to the corner and then west along Jefferson Street to Church Street.

Blue Mediterranean skies with twinkling star and gray clouds drifting lazily over the enthralling panorama of old Spain was the fascinating setting which greeted the audience of the Coronado Theater on opening day. The walls of Spanish castles built along the sides of the auditorium take the patrons into a dream world across the seas to the romance of a night in Spain. The breathtaking immensity of the Spanish architecture is captured in this photograph taken from the upper balcony. The scene is complete with trees specially treated to retain their leaves.

The text shown above is from the above Grand Opening advertisement.

Once inside the patron was ushered to his seat by one of a corps of well-trained ushers resplendent in a uniform which included white gloves and highly polished black shoes. The ushers carried swagger-stick type flashlights to locate the proper seat after he had been directed to the location by an elaborate system of lighted panels located in the foyer and each entrance to the balcony. The system was connected to a large master panel just inside the foyer where the head usher by means of a code was advised as to the location of empty seats.

Just inside the foyer stands the master panel for the usher’s signal system. Remote panels located outside the ground floor auditorium doors and at each entrance to the balcony were connected to a bank of relays in the basement which in turn were connected to this panel. A display of lights told of vacant seats.

An opening program was presented which was befitting the gala occasion. Johnny Perkins was the master of ceremonies, Dan Garry and his “Playboys” were in the orchestra pit and Archie Short conducted the Coronado Symphony Orchestra. A Stage play, “The Coronado Night” and a silent movie, “Swim. Girl, Swim accompanied by Ralph Brigham at the organ rounded out the program.

The moving clouds and stars in the blue sky overhead at the atmospheric Coronado Theater were projected on the ceiling by these cloud machines.

The stage of the Coronado was very large allowing for legitimate stage shows as well as vaudeville attractions at times when the movie house was not featuring motion pictures on the big screen. With opening day behind them the management of the Coronado kept up a brisk pace, presenting four shows daily. The list of famous stars and shows over the years is almost endless. Some of the stars that appeared on the Coronado stage including the Marx Brothers, Bob Hope, Rudy Vallee, Betty Grable, Edgar Bergan, Sammy Davis Jr., Milton Berle, and Jane Powell. Musical acts to name just a few included Lawrence Welk, Glen Miller, Jimmy Dorsey, Liberace, Sammy Kaye, Frank Sinatra, Benny Goodman, George Gershwin, and Louis Armstrong. There would be many more performers, shows and movies on the stage over the years.

Coronado Theater Lobby 1940

A couple of young ladies at the ticket booth in 1964

In April of 1953 Willard Van Matre passed away leaving management of the Coronado to his wife Emma. Emma would pass away in 1969 and the theater was put up for sale. Kerasotes Theatres purchased the Coronado in July 1970.

 Although the theater was entered on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, the movie theater was facing increasing competition from outlying multiple screen movie theaters and would show it's last scheduled movie in 1984. It was donated to the City of Rockford in 1997 by the Kerasotes family.

 In 1999 the theater was closed for renovation and would reopen in January 2001 as a performing arts center.

Coronado Theater lobby as it appears today. The original lobby doors were relocated to the main entrance.

In the above photograph by Nels Akerlund the stage and seating area can be seen after the theater restoration.

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