Historic Dixon Theatre~ Past ~ Present ~ Future
In 1920, Leonard G. Rorer, then manager of Dixon’s Family Theatre, announced he had purchased the site of the old Opera House in downtown Dixon “for the purpose of erecting the finest show house to be found between Chicago and Des Moines and from Rockford to LaSalle”. The Dixon Opera House had opened in 1876 and was the entertainment center of the area until it was destroyed by fire in early 1920.
On March 15, 1922, the Dixon Evening Telegraph announced in its headline the opening of the new Dixon Theatre. A large picture of the theatre’s façade had a prominent position on the front page and several columns were devoted to a description of the interior features and decorations.
In 1922, the Dixon Theatre cost $200,000.00 to build and the local architect was William J. McAlpine, who also designed the Lee County Courthouse, the Old Post Office, and the Dixon National Bank among other public buildings.
The entire community watched the construction of the Theatre with pride and was impressed with the permanent construction, being entirely constructed of fireproof materials, brick, terra cotta, concrete, marble and steel. “Quality throughout” was the slogan of Leonard Rorer and his management in planning and erecting the fireproof theatre. The building differed in design from most theatres of the time in that it had an apartment above the entrance lobby and the stores on either side of the lobby.
The total square footage in the Historic Dixon Theatre is 25,769. The stage area is 1790 square feet and has a 42’ x 25’ proscenium opening. The below floor level orchestra pit has 210 square feet with access from the dressing room area below the stage. The lobby has a 380 square feet opening into a main foyer of 1180 square feet.
The original seating capacity of the theatre was 1200, with approximately 700 seats on the main floor and 500 seats on the balcony level including the box seats. This includes limited seating areas for handicapped patrons and their guests on the main floor.
The architectural treatment of the Theatre’s interior had a certain understated elegance, but it was overflowing with detailed decorative features fit for royalty. The most notable as you enter the front doors are the exceptional Terrazzo flooring in the entryway with a design in the very center of the room encompassing the name “Rorer”. L. G. wanted everyone to know that it was his hard work that allowed him to purchase this land and build this great facility for all to enjoy. We also believe he is saying “Welcome to the Dixon Theatre”. As you enter into the lobby area, it’s flooded with gorgeous imported Italian marble, which you’ll find throughout the facility along with stunning crown moldings, stenciling around the ceiling areas in both the auditorium and lobby areas, and rich colors or burgundies and golds throughout the Theatre . The crowning feature of the theatre was a large, 2-tiered lighted domed ceiling in the main auditorium for not only beautiful visual effects, but outstanding acoustical purposes. This one feature alone would give a person the ability to stand on the stage and talk in a normal voice and easily be heard out in the lobby and vice versa.
Early show bills featured things such as several Vaudeville acts, a seven-piece orchestra, a fine Barton Organ accompanying early silent films and several other forms of live entertainment. Talking pictures arrived by 1929 and they were followed by what most of us knew to become motion picture movies.
For many years, the Dixon Theatre did a superb job offering the Dixon area a beautiful, grand facility. Many people from this area have fond memories of being introduced to silent films, plays, opera and ballet for the first time. For others it was having their first date there, or maybe it was seeing a first run showing of “Grease” or ”Star Wars” and you had to see at least 10 times? Whatever it was, this was the place to be. Among the most famous events held in the Theatre was the premier showing of Ronald Reagan’s film, “International Squadron”. As time went on, time took its toll on the facility and times were changing. Sadly, in 1984 the final movie was shown and the Dixon Theatre closed its doors.
The Rorer family proudly owned and operated The Dixon Theatre for over 30 years. In the year following the closing of its doors, Dixon Theatre Renovation, Inc. was formed and in October 1985, Dixon Theatre Renovation, Inc. signed a lease-purchase agreement and the Dixon Theatre, once again, became a showcase for the performing arts. The DTRI group knew the importance of continuing to use the Historic Theatre to generate income, but remained cautious to prevent further deterioration while plans to renovate the building accelerated. The “quality throughout” slogan has stood the test of time and continues to be a major factor when doing any renovating or updating to the structure.
During the late 80′s through the 90′s, volunteers spent time renovating the theater to help save it from deterioration so it was able to open its doors again for everyone to enjoy.
The improvements to the building during the first major renovation phase included the following: new roof, complete paint job in the interior, partial renovation of the apartment, new stage curtains, polishing of the brass, and the start of the seat renovation on the main floor.
During the second phase we saw the following renovations take place: the main floor seats and balcony seats were finished, completely renovated men’s and women’s restrooms, lighted sign on the South exterior end of the building, air conditioning installation and floor restoration in the lobby and mezzanine areas, and a sound booth was built in the balcony area.
More recently a brand new lighted marquee has been placed on the front of the building, a new boiler system installed, all the stage and balcony lights are new and state of the art, along with the new sound system that is now in place which includes 12 wireless microphones. A commercial Power Point Projector unit has been installed which allows capability for not only PowerPoint presentations, but also the viewing of any DVD/VHS movies. In April-June of 2007, the electrical service to the building was upgraded from 400 amp to an 800 amp, balanced system. Most of the internal electricity has been removed and replaced with new as well. The Theatre has also been making room for over a year now for its newest permanent resident, The Barton Pipe Organ. The 2 Chamber rooms on either side of the auditorium have been completely renovated to be climate controlled and now house all of the necessary components the organ requires from noise makers to pipes. There were also lofts built to house the pipes that would not quite fit into these rooms.
Things Happening Now or Soon: All new windows, new handicap exit door on North of building, major plasterwork & painting on interior walls & ceiling, South Wall Interior renovation, projection booth renovation.
Future To Do List: Dressing room renovation, tuck-pointing (re-grouting the terra cotta on building) and cleaning of the exterior and normal ongoing maintenance that must occur on such a large building, renovation interior floor, new curtains.
*Historic Dixon Theatre will be having ongoing fundraisers to help fund some major deterioration, which is quite costly to repair in our beautiful Theatre. Please support our events or DONATE NOW by contacting us!!
Historic Dixon Theatre Today~
The Historic Dixon Theatre is currently a rental facility that provides a place for organizations and individuals to hold all kinds of events at user-friendly prices. Several times a year, fundraisers for the theater help to defray expenses. It costs thousands of dollars each year to operate the theater because of fixed expenses for utilities and insurance.
The market area for the Historic Dixon Theatre is normally Lee, Ogle, DeKalb, Carroll and Whiteside counties, but in the recent years, we have noticed a large number of patrons attending from the Chicago and Quad Cities areas which is wonderful! Approximately 1/3 of the people attending the current events are from outside Dixon and we hope to increase that number in the near future with new marketing tools being implemented this year. The two most desired types of events currently being held here are Broadway musicals, large conferences, MMA fights and live music events. In the last 5 years alone, we have more than quadrupled the bookings which is fantastic to keep the theatre alive and get people in the doors, but it’s not enough. We hope to broaden the horizon of happenings at the Dixon Theater in the very near future.
The Historic Dixon Theatre today, has a large stage (even offering a stage extension which allows the orchestra pit to be covered), sunken orchestra pit in front of the stage, the gorgeous domed ceiling which creates the rarest, most phenomenal natural acoustics one will most likely experience, 5 dressing rooms and 2 restrooms in the basement below the stage, as well as several drop bars available in the fly area for use. There are 2 restrooms on the Mezzanine level, 2 main floor store fronts on either side of the front lobby area of the theatre that were converted to expand the original restrooms, which now have allowed us to offer 7 women’s and 2 men’s stalls instead of the one in each prior to this renovation. After undergoing such extensive renovation over the last 20+ yrs, and adding all of these fantastic amenities to this building, it is safe to say that Historic Dixon Theatre now offers you everything a new theatre can, while still giving you that ”old theatre feel”.
The auditorium accommodates live stage productions such as plays or musicals, concerts, opera, ballet, classic films, comedians, lectures, meetings, seminars and conferences, and dance recitals. There is really no limit to its uses.
The Theatre’s newest acquisition is a fully restored Barton Theatre Pipe organ. The Trustees were humbled to accept this generous gift from an anonymous donor and said they are very proud to have this wonderful piece of history in such a deserving facility for all to enjoy for many years to come. If you have not ever heard a theatre pipe organ in your life, it is highly recommended. They are meant to replace an entire orchestra, and then some. It can also duplicate just about any sound you can imagine from sleigh bells to a fire engine siren, car horns to cymbals crashing and everything in between. It is truly a magnificent instrument that we’ll be using for many exciting things in the near future, so keep your eyes open for great NEW things happening in 2011….
HELP KEEP YOUR DIXON THEATRE ALIVE!!
The Dixon area can be proud that The Historic Dixon Theatre operates independently from local government and is self-sufficient, SOLELY surviving on rental fees, concession sales and being blessed occasionally with private donations. The Theatre is a 501c3 and if you’d like to learn more about a tax-deductable donation to the Theatre, contact Tom at email@example.com
Theater Board of Trustees:
Tom Elmendorf Linda Brantley Earl Sholders
Jeff Schnaiter Tim Deem Craig Miller
Dedicated Theatre Volunteers: Jodi Elmendorf, Sharri Miller, Sharon Murphy, Rita Sholders, Hannah & Courtney Miller, Ashley Elmendorf, Ryan & Monique Elmendorf, Kenny Hughes and Christi Buttron.
If you have an interest in booking the Dixon Theatre, please call
Tom Elmendorf at 815-973-4318 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for your continued support of the Historic Dixon Theatre!
If you have any historic facts or information regarding The Historic Dixon Theatre, please email us at email@example.com
The Historic Dixon Theatre is owned by the Lee County Civic Center Authority, a unit of government created by a resolution passed by the Lee county Board under the authority of the Metropolitan Civic Center Act. The board of trustees was appointed by the Civic Center Authority to manage the facility, including rental and fund-raising activities of the theater as well as setting policies for the maintenance of the facility.