The Friends of the Coronado is a not-for-profit organization formed in 1997 to launch a fund-raising campaign to expand, restore and renovate Rockford’s “Wonder Theatre.” The Friends of the Coronado organization would go on to guide every detail of the planning, community involvement and fundraising for the $18.5 million theater project, which was awarded the highest honor by the United States Department of the Interior.
Today, the Friends of the Coronado and the Coronado Theatre serve our region, strengthening our economy and exemplifying civic pride and excellence. The Friends of the Coronado is committed to uplifting our community by preserving the Coronado Theatre, a registered National Historic Landmark, with impeccable historic integrity.
We believe that preserving our national treasure and making it available to everyone is building a stronger community. Through the Coronado’s preserved historic architecture, we connect our citizens to the past as a reminder of the history we share.
We are committed to ensuring all people have access to the Coronado, so this architectural and cultural landmark and the many performances that grace its stage continue to enrich and inspire our community.
We are committed to youth education programs to empower and equip young people with knowledge of historic preservation, civic engagement, and local and world historic events as they relate to the Coronado’s rich history. Equally important, our youth performing arts program Reach for the Stars exposes thousands of school age children annually to world-class performing arts experiences at no cost to the students or the schools, eliminating financial barriers.
The grand 1927 Coronado Theatre, magnificently restored, has the power to change lives and bring our community together. Since 1997, the Friends of the Coronado has been committed to ensuring that the Coronado Theatre is here for generations to come.
The Coronado Theatre opened in 1927, mesmerizing audiences for decades because of its exotic architecture and decoration. But as the building aged and fell into only very occasional use, the question that became more frequently asked was: “Whatever will happen to our once-grand Wonder Theatre?” as the gilded marvel had been nicknamed early on.
In 1995, Mary Ann Smith, longtime president of the Rockford Coronado Concert Association, which annually presented five music and dance performances at the Coronado, became acutely aware of the advancing deterioration of the building. Mounting problems with water leaks, rodents and birds, and antiquated heating, cooling and electrical systems stirred anxiety about audience safety and the long term future of the physical structure.
Ms. Smith, a Rockford native, had been spellbound by the Coronado since she was a small child. “It was like no place I had ever been. It was a palace. It was magical. Seeing the theater decline was frightening,” Smith reflects, “and it was heartbreaking.”
But it was the great American soprano Leontyne Price whom Mary Ann Smith credits with sparking her ambition not only to return the Coronado to its former architectural glory, but also to secure its future through a rebirth as a performing arts center.
Price had sung in every major opera house and concert hall in the world, yet was awestruck by the Coronado’s unusual beauty during a 1985 appearance. Remembers Mary Ann Smith: “She looked directly in my eyes and declared, ’You must save this theater!'”
The Rockford Area Arts Council (RAAC) convened focus groups and identify funding sources for studies to address two pressing issues:
Friends of the Coronado eventually was “incubated” as a fledgling project of the RAAC, becoming a separate 501(c)3 organization in 1997 when it was evident that public sentiment for saving the Coronado was strong.
Despite the Coronado being added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, the landmark was by now in peril. Friends sought more than merely to protect the historic property, but to make the Coronado competitive as a modern performing arts venue and an economic engine in the process.
To deliver on those goals of diligent preservation and economic promise, Friends hired the nationally recognized architectural firm of van Dijk, Pace, Westlake from Cleveland, OH, for their experience in theater restoration.
Under the leadership of Mayor Charles Box, the City of Rockford took ownership after receiving the Coronado Theatre as a gift from the Kerasotes family of Springfield, IL. Box appointed Mary Ann and her husband C. Gordon Smith as co-chairs to lead the Friends of the Coronado and Coronado Theatre Restoration Project.
Alongside the Coronado Restoration Project Steering Committee, Friends worked with the City of Rockford to raise funds and oversee restoration and construction, leveraging the promise of the restored Coronado being the home stage to four local tenants: the Rockford Symphony Orchestra, Rockford Dance Company, Rockford Community Concert Association and Land of Lincoln Theater Organ Society.
Private and public contributions reached $18.5 million, and the Coronado reopened after two years of painstaking restoration with a “Lights-On!” gala in 2001. That same year, the Coronado Theatre Restoration Project and Friends of the Coronado were awarded the preservation project of the year by the U.S. Department of Interior – National Trust for Historic Preservation for successfully transforming a 1920s movie palace into a state-of-art performing arts center.
Since 1997, the Friends’ mission and focus has remained the same: to preserve the Coronado Theatre for all to use and share.
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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