JOLIET – Ed Czerkies didn’t have his name on the Rialto Square Theatre marquee Monday.
But when it came time to announce his $350,000 donation to replace that marquee, Czerkies became a performer on stage, telling a joke that fit into the theater’s vaudeville origins. The punchline was, “Everything but my earrings.”
The retired construction magnate had sought a way to honor his late mother when he was put in contact with the theater staff. Czerkies found himself “getting emotional” as he spoke about having her name on the front of the building. A sign under the marquee will read “In memory of Michael and Mary Czerkies.”
“She didn’t have a lot of education, but she was very intelligent,” Czerkies said.
Rialto General Manager Randy Green said replacing the current marquee, believed to be the fourth on the front of the 88-year-old theater, has been a focus for nearly five years.
“It’s gone well beyond its useful lifespan. We have literally been keeping [part of] it together with duct tape,” Green said.
Green said the old ballasts and neon tubes used in the marquee have become obsolete and are difficult to replace. The individual letters have become brittle.
The new marquee combines state-of-the art light-emitting diode screens under the theater name written in classic script.
“We wanted a design that fit into our architecture, not a sleek 21st century-looking board,” Green said.
But different announcements can be displayed on the front and sides of the marquee while temporary messages such as “5 minutes to Curtain” can scroll across the board above the entrance.
Czerkies donation also will pay to repaint the large vertical “RIALTO” sign in front of the theater. Green said the incandescent bulbs in letters may be replaced by LEDs.
“But the border will remain incandescent for the time being,” Green said. “We want to be environmentally and energy efficient, but current LEDs don’t work well with that ‘flicker effect’ our sign has. I think that’s the next step for technology.”
The sign will be painted in early spring and the marquee will be replaced after that, Green said. Replacement of the terracotta parapet behind the vertical sign and above the marquee is scheduled to be completed in May.