JOLIET – It was a night of looking back and forward, hopefully, as the Rialto Square Theatre celebrated its 90th birthday and more to come on Tuesday.
But the outlook appeared bright at the Rialto anniversary party as well-wishers crowded the theater lobby, ate cake, signed a giant birthday card and drank a toast to the theater that opened on May 24, 1926.
The recent troubles did not go unnoticed by the two major speakers of the evening – Mayor Bob O’Dekirk and Will County Executive Larry Walsh. Their comments focused on the importance of keeping the Rialto open, raising vigorous cheers from an audience of like minds.
O’Dekirk said the crowd and display of community support was a reminder of the city’s responsibility “to move forward to find the resolution to the problems the theater faces and to keep it vibrant moving forward. ... I am confident we’ll be able to do that.”
The city does not run the Rialto. But it does provide an annual stipend of $600,000, most of which has been used up already because of cash-flow problems dating to last year.
The county does not provide annual support for the Rialto but has provided funding in the past. And Walsh spoke as if he would consider doing so again.
“We need to step forward,” he told the crowd. “We need to participate. We need to work in collaboration to make sure the doors of the Rialto Square Theatre are never locked shut.”
Walsh quipped that celebrants of 90th birthdays typically don’t look as good as the Rialto Square Theatre and said, “We should be proud of what we have here in downtown Joliet. How many cities in the state of Illinois and how many cities in the United States of America would love to have a theater like this?”
It was a sentiment shared by many in the crowd, some of whom spent much of the time gazing at The Duchess, the central chandelier that was lowered for the celebration so people could get a closer look.
‘Palace of the People’
A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, D-Naperville, read a congressional proclamation noting the Rialto had been called the “Palace of the People” because it brought the architecture of the world to the theater.
The lobby of the theater was designed after the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles in France.
Alain Abadie, a native of France who now lives in Channahon, said the Rialto lobby does indeed compare well to the Hall of Mirrors.
“I have never seen a theater so beautiful,” Abadie said.
He was there with his wife, Rosalyn Abadie, a former Rialto volunteer.
Rosalyn said she had come Tuesday to see The Duchess up close, which she had never seen before.
“There’s always something new to see,” she said. “They used to tell me every statue has a reason. It has a purpose for its design. Every time I come here I see something different.”
Kathy McCarthy of Joliet said she was at the party “just to celebrate the theater, just because it has so much history. It’s a beautiful landmark.”
McCarthy noted two of the more memorable performances she saw at the Rialto – country music legend Johnny Cash and the great French mime Marcel Marceau – and said she was there to show her support.
“I think it would be a shame if we lost this theater,” she said. “Just to see something this beautiful and this majestic that you don’t see anymore. And it’s here in our town. That’s the beauty of it.”
Interim Executive Director Jack Ericksen told the crowd they could expect another celebration for the 100th anniversary.
“We always want the community to be a part of this theater and part of everything that happens at the Rialto,” Ericksen told the audience. “We want you to embrace the Rialto and enjoy everything that happens here.”
Ericksen recognized a number of people in the audience, including volunteer Teresa Evans of Joliet. Evans is the longest serving of the Rialto volunteers, who support the theater with their work on show nights and with fundraising. She has been doing it for 35 years and four months.
Evans was a volunteer when the Rialto reopened in 1981 after a transition from private ownership to current management under the Will County Metropolitan Exposition and Auditorium Authority.
Asked whether she thought then that the Rialto would see its 90th Anniversary, Evans referred to the late Dorothy Mavrich, the woman credited with spearheading the community effort to save the theater from demolition in the late 1970s.
“I would never think that it would leave,” Evans said of the Rialto. “That’s what Dorothy wanted.”
Visit this story at TheHerald-News.com for more photographs from the Rialto Square Theatre 90th Anniversary celebration.