JOLIET – Clara Yunker has fond memories of the Rialto Square Theatre.
Yunker, of Plainfield, said she attends performances at the theater regularly and fondly remembers seeing Glen Campbell, Carol Burnett and Buck Owens at the theater in downtown Joliet.
“People come from all over to see it,” she said. “People come from Europe to see it.”
She was one of many who signed a petition offered Sunday afternoon by protesters to those heading into the Rialto for the Joliet American Legion Band’s Sounds of Christmas concert.
The protesters were expressing their concerns about the new marquee for the Rialto, as theater managers have 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.
Artist renderings for the new sign show a more modern style, as well as a place to honor the parents of Ed Czerkies, who is donating $350,000 for the new marquee.
“I don’t want them to change it,” Yunker said of the marquee. “This is the Jewel of Joliet. Don’t touch it.”
The petition stated that signers were voicing their “displeasure with the new Rialto marquee” and the appointed officials in charge of the sign, and were requesting an audit by the Illinois Auditor General. Petitioners also were asking public funding be withheld until after the audit is performed and new Auditorium Authority Board members appointed.
“Whatever we can do to help out,” said Tom and Joyce Perkins of Gardner, both of whom signed the petition on the way inside to hear the Joliet American Legion Band’s Sounds of Christmas concert.
Others have asked the Joliet City Council to withhold city contributions to the theater until the sign’s design is changed.
“My grandfather performed in the pit in the ’30s and ’40s,” petitioner Mary Beth Gannon said. “A lot of people have a history here, and I’d like to save it.”
Protester James Keegan said he likes the original design better.
“We’re just thinking about the architecture of the theater,” Keegan said. “It doesn’t seem to go with the theater at all. ... The new one looks like it should be on a gambling riverboat.”
Rialto representatives Trish Stoner and LeAnn Hoffrogge offered the protesters complimentary tickets for the day’s performance but declined to comment.
Rialto General Manager Randy Green has previously stated that the new sign was an appropriate reflection of the building from an architectural standpoint, while using modern technology to enhance the way the theater would provide information to the public.
Some feel the “in memoriam” display on the marquee to the Czerkies’ parents is not an appropriate addition to the sign.
Michael Morgan said he felt that the order for the marquee should be canceled if it already has been placed.
“I applaud Ed [Czerkies] for coming forward with the money,” he said. “I just have a problem with the application. ... The intent is not to slam him.”
Morgan said a better idea would be for Czerkies to honor his parents with a brass plaque in a prominent location at the theater, not on the marquee.
The protesters collected canned goods to donate to the American Legion. They also encouraged people to attend Monday’s Joliet City Council meeting to voice their opinion about the sign. Green is scheduled to speak Monday at the council’s pre-council meeting, which starts at 5:30 p.m.