The dream of Willard Van Matre and the Rockford Enterprises Group, the Coronado Theatre in Rockford, Illinois opened its doors in 1927. The ornately decorated Coronado was a mammoth undertaking, requiring 18 months to construct and costing roughly $1.5 million. Over the years, the “Wonder Theatre” hosted show business legends: the Marx Brothers, Tommy Dorsey, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, George Gershwin, Bob Hope, Talullah Bankhead and even Gypsy Rose Lee. Orchestras, plays, concerts, silent films, “talkies,” political rallies and high school graduations all took place on the stage of the Coronado beneath twinkling stars, surrounded by a fanciful Mediterranean landscape.
After decades of gala premieres and packed houses, the Coronado Theatre began to show its age. The last movie in the theater was shown in 1984. Local groups continued to use the Coronado to host productions — roughly 40 per year — but the theater suffered from antiquated restrooms, an unreliable heating system, outdated sound and lighting equipment, and a stage built for vaudeville and movies, not full-scale, modern productions. Also of concern, the building was not fully accessible to all patrons or performers.
In 1995, a group of concerned citizens, under the aegis of the Rockford Area Arts Council, began to investigate the possibility of renovating the Coronado to create a state-of-the-art performance and entertainment facility. In 1997, with the gift of the theater to the City of Rockford by the Kerasotes Corporation, the Friends of the Coronado was officially formed. A year later the organization launched a fund-raising campaign to expand, restore and renovate Rockford’s “Wonder Theatre.” With the generous help of the City of Rockford and thousands of corporations, foundations, government and individual donors and volunteers, the dream of creating a world-class venue “for all to use and share,” has been realized in the “new” Coronado Theatre.
The Coronado Theatre is a vibrant regional arts and entertainment anchor providing an extraordinary variety in entertainment choices, hosting 80-100 events per year. It is home to the Rockford Symphony Orchestra, Rockford Dance Company and the Land of Lincoln Theatre Organ Society. Other stage events include weddings, galas, graduations, dance recitals, school music programs, organ concerts and annual Haunted Tours. The beautifully restored Coronado serves our region as one of the top historic theaters in North America, strengthening our economy and exemplifying civic pride and excellence.
The Coronado is in a rare class of theaters with an extensive collection of historical archives, artifacts meticulously curated, and the original Coronado Grand Barton Organ. The collection is made possible by the Coronado’s Land of Lincoln Theatre Organ Society’s longtime efforts.
For over forty years as part of the Land of Lincoln Theatre Organ Society organization, Marty Mangas has been the Coronado Theatre’s foremost historian.
Our mission is to champion the historic Coronado Theatre, a time-honored symbol of civic pride, as a performing arts center and community asset for all to use and share. Friends of the Coronado is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
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