For the first time in years, the Arcada Theatre marquee in downtown St. Charles will shine brightly this spring, thanks to a cooperative effort involving the city and downtown business owners.
Theater owner Ron Onesti has teamed up with the city and Downtown St. Charles Partnership to renovate and repair the sign, which has announced local entertainment for some 85 years but is no longer functioning completely.
"It's either change the sign or change the name to Arc Theatre," Onesti joked, noting some of the letters don't light up anymore.
Onesti said the $85,000 project includes replacing the wiring, sockets and lettering, and the addition of digital boards to announce events. The marquee still will have about 600 light bulbs, but the digital boards will be black with amber lettering.
"It's basically going to be a completely new sign inside and out," Onesti said.
The partnership has already committed $2,500 in grant funds toward the effort, and the city of St. Charles is kicking in another $41,250 through a facade improvement program. The rest will come through the Arcada Theatre Community Legacy Program, which is accepting pledges from the community.
The roughly 1,000-seat theater at 105 E. Main St. was built in 1926 and went on to become one of the Fox Valley's most popular Vaudeville venues, featuring the likes of George Burns and Gracie Allen, the John Phillips Sousa Band, Edgar Bergen and Vincent Price. Later on, it became a movie house and, after falling into disrepair, was acquired in 2005 by Onesti, who has since booked performers such as Jerry Lewis, Martin Short and Rick Springfield.
"I would think this is a source of pride for all people who live in St. Charles," Onesti said. "It defines downtown, along with the municipal building and Hotel Baker."
Fred Norris, who was mayor of St. Charles from 1977 to 1997, said he still remembers spending Sunday afternoons as a child at the Arcada, where he could see a movie and get popcorn for less than a dollar.
"I'm delighted to hear they're going to try and recapture some of that" with the marquee renovations, Norris said. "It has quite a history."
Since taking over the Arcada, Onesti said he has spent about $30,000 trying to repair the marquee. In 2008, he had all the bulbs lit up for the first time in years - but a 40-foot truck hit it the very same day, and the marquee has been on the blink ever since, he said.
"We're putting into place protective measures so that won't happen again," Onesti said.
Mayor Don DeWitte said it's important the theater continues to be updated and maintained, so it can "flourish."
"It really has been one of the icons of downtown for 85 years," DeWitte said. "It's important to maintain these historic treasures."
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