In October 2019 Historic Dixon Theatre Group, a 501(c)3 corporation, took over the ownership and operation of The Dixon | Historic Theatre and started working toward a new era for this cultural icon of the Sauk Valley, including the celebration of The Dixon’s centenary in 2022.
In 1920, Leonard G. Rorer, manager of Dixon’s Family Theatre, announced he had purchased the site of The Dixon Opera House in downtown Dixon “for the purpose of erecting the finest show house to be found between Chicago and Des Moines and from Rockford to LaSalle”. The Opera House had opened in 1876 and operated until it was completely destroyed by fire in early 1920.
On March 15, 1922, the Dixon Evening Telegraph announced the opening of The Dixon Theatre. A large picture of the theatre’s façade featured on the front page and several columns described the interior features and decorations. The Dixon had cost $200,000 to build (equivalent to $3 million today). It was designed in an Italian Renaissance style by local architect, William J. McAlpine, who had been responsible for the Lee County Courthouse, the Old Post Office, and the Dixon National Bank among other buildings.
The Dixon was entirely constructed of fireproof materials, brick, terracotta, concrete, steel, and terrazzo.“Quality throughout” was the slogan of the management in planning and erecting the theater. The building differed in design from most theaters of the time as there is an apartment above the lobby and storefronts on either side. The architectural treatment of the interior had an understated elegance with fine decorative features. The crowning glory was a large dome in the center of the ceiling with a sky treatment, which retains beautiful acoustics. There is also a large stage, orchestra pit, and a 1924 organ.
The Rorer family owned and operated the theater for nearly 30 years. Early show bills featured several vaudeville acts, a seven-piece orchestra and frequently a motion picture. An organ accompanied the early silent films and talking pictures arrived in 1929. Many local people have fond memories of dates at the movies and many area young people were introduced to plays, opera and ballet at The Dixon. Among the most famous events was the premier showing of the film of Ronald Reagan’s “International Squadron”. Through changes of ownership, The Dixon continued to serve as a movie house until 1984 when the final movie was shown and the theater closed.
In October 1985, Dixon Theatre Renovation, Inc. signed a lease-purchase agreement and The Dixon once again became a showcase for the performing arts. DTRI and the Lee County Civic Center Authority shepherded this wonderful building through nearly 35 years of almost continuous use as a performing arts center. Volunteers, along with generous contributors, renovated the theater and returned it to its position as a fine cultural asset that the entire Sauk Valley area could enjoy and be proud of.
The Dixon | Historic Theatre is owned and operated by Historic Dixon Theatre Group. The board is appointed by the Mayor and City Council of the City of Dixon, but operates as an entirely independent body. The new group is very excited to be planning future events which will include live music, community theatre, movies, lectures, meetings, and conferences, continuing the traditions established on opening night in March 1922. We have every confidence that The Dixon will be a beacon for the arts from Chicago to Des Moines and from Rockford to LaSalle.