St. Charles' Arcada Theatre welcomes public to 90th anniversary celebration
St. Charles will step back nearly 100 years in time Monday to celebrate a milestone anniversary for one of the three national landmarks that adorn its downtown.
The first week of September marks the 90th anniversary of the Arcada Theatre. It was Sept. 6, 1926 when local philanthropists Lester and Dellora Norris unveiled their $500,000 gift to the community. That's the equivalent of a $6.6 million investment today. At the time, the theater was so large, and the community so small, that it could accommodate 20 percent of all the city's residents in its 1,009 seats. Guests from all over the area watched a silent film, "The Last Frontier" and enjoyed the sounds from a $25,000 organ. The theater is still home to a second version of that organ. St. Charles Mayor Ray Rogina credits Ron Onesti's takeover of the theater in 2005 for keeping both the tradition and the theater itself alive.
"If you do the calculation, more than 11 percent of the Arcada experience has been thanks to Ron Onesti," Rogina said. "I think that's significant to say. When you talk about important people who have been part of the Arcada's tapestry, Onesti has got to be one of the first names."
Looking back on the last 11 years, Onesti said the theater allows him to live out the fantasy of being the ultimate music fan. Raised by two World War II veterans, but coming of age in the 1970s, Onesti has a range of musical tastes. And that's reflected in the more than 200 events he books at the Arcada every year.
"When I have Tommy Dorsey and the Glenn Miller Orchestra here, I'm in heaven," Onesti said. "But Boston, Foreigner, Styx, I know all their stuff word for word. I'm such a student of music. My favorite band is really the one that I have performing at the theater on any given night."
But it's not just performers known for their musical talent that the theater features. Mickey Rooney, Jerry Lewis, Joan Rivers, Vincent Price and Kevin Costner have all graced the stage.
To draw those acts, Onesti has made significant investments in the theater's infrastructure. The newest addition is a $100,000 video wall on the stage. Onesti said he's working with the city to improve the theater's restrooms in the next couple months and install a new heating and air conditioning system by next summer.
"These old gems have been knocked down by the thousands in recent years," Onesti said. "To have a Vaudeville-era theater be continuously used for the purpose which it was built for and maintained with its original splendor for 90 years, it might has well be 190 years we are celebrating."
The celebration begins at 6:30 p.m. Monday at First and Main Streets with a mini-parade. The procession will travel over the Fox River bridge, turn right at Second Avenue, then loop around the Arcada, ending on Riverside Avenue. A Vaudeville show begins at 7 p.m., including vocalists, jugglers, tap dancers and bands. The same "Our Gang" comedy short "The Fourth Alarm" that debuted at the Arcada's opening night will be screened as well.
Onesti is hoping people with historical ties or information about the theater will come and share at the event. The all-ages festivities are free and open to the public. Free tickets are required for admission. They are available by calling (630) 962-7000 or at oshows.com. Free Blue Goose cake and Colonial ice cream will be served.