The Dixon | Historic Theatre is proud to showcase live music, community theatre, movies, lectures, meetings, and conferences and continues the traditions established on opening night in March of 1922. We are a beacon for the arts from Chicago to Des Moines and throughout the Midwest.
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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.