Even though the lights have been dimmed since March at the Coronado Performing Arts Center due to the pandemic, many projects are in the works, with a focus on keeping the future bright for the historic building, says Friends of the Coronado Executive Director Beth Howard.
“Performances are on pause because of the pandemic, but the Coronado is not empty or lifeless,” she says.
The 93-year-old building’s 20th restoration anniversary is this year. Coronado has received grants for ongoing repairs and educational/outreach programs, in part aimed at interesting future generations in preserving historic gems.
Currently, the preservation focus is on repairing the towering marquee, with its 2,300 chasing LED lights, and ornate architectural details on the building exterior. In 2019, a problem with the rainwater drainage system was causing water to seep into the marquee. The Friends commissioned a study and determined the basic structure of the sign is in top condition but it needs some attention to keep it operating for years to come.
Unseasonably dry and warm weather in late November made it possible to begin exterior work. Cast stone on the third floor was sealed and 210 feet of damaged and discolored terrazzo tile was restored.
“The Coronado is a place where our community’s memories are stored and will be cared for by future generations,” says Howard.
On the educational front, “Secrets of the Coronado” will be produced in eight, 20-minute videos that provide a behind-the-scenes look at what takes place in the historic building. A Coronado stage professional will rise 90 feet in the air to film the working of stage lights and the orchestra pit mechanicals in action. He’ll also climb through the attic to show how the original chandelier-lowering system over the mezzanine worked. The Rockford Area Arts Council gave the Coronado $2,000 toward its goal of $8,000 to produce the videos.
The Community Foundation of Northern Illinois awarded a $16,000 grant to the Coronado for a new website that’s expected to debut in late spring.
“We’ve made small updates to our website all along, but this is a major overhaul with specific goals in mind to make the site more user-friendly, interactive, and engaging,” Howard says.
Friends of the Coronado is also exploring how to offer more low-cost events to the public.
“When the Coronado opened as a movie theater in 1927, there was a roaring economy,” says Howard. “Just two years later, the country was in a Great Depression and the theater was a place where you left your troubles at the door and escaped everyday hardships. Ticket prices were extra affordable. The Coronado was one of 300 ornate movie palaces constructed in the nation during the 1920s and ’30s, designed to take people away from their hometowns to faraway lands.”
Howard envisions another opportunity for the Coronado to help people heal, through new events, celebrations and traditions, when the region fully recovers from pandemic restrictions.
The Coronado Classroom (CC) can’t wait to welcome children back, she says. CC was the vision of a longtime friend and generous donor to the theater. It became its first education program, as third graders were invited to explore the Coronado and learn about its history.
“The kids love to hear stories about people from the past and are inspired by what they learn,” says Howard. “The history gives them a sense of community pride because others cared enough to preserve the theater for them. We hope future generations will continue to care for the Coronado.”
Another program, “Reach to the Stars,” allows fourth graders to attend a world-class production free of charge, including transportation.
Preserving the Coronado has made a statement to the community, says Howard.
“So many communities have struggled to save historic buildings, and some lost the battle. Great buildings are gone forever. To be on this side of a restoration and expansion is a gift we must never take for granted. The Friends are experts in historic preservation and are able to address every project with the highest standard of historic integrity.”
To give a one-time or recurring donation to Coronado projects, go to the website or mail it to Friends of the Coronado, P.O. Box 1976, Rockford, IL, 61110 or call (815) 847-6314. ❚