Curtain call for Rialto rescuer: Mavrich to be honored
BY DENISE M. BARAN-UNLAND Correspondent October 3, 2013 3:14PM
The Joliet Historical Museum on Saturday will honor Dorothy Mavrich of Joliet at its 12th Annual Gala DreamMakers Ball for her tireless efforts in preserving the Rialto Square Theatre in Joliet for future generations. | Supplied photo courtesy of cityofJoliet.com
Updated: November 5, 2013 6:16AM
When it came to saving the Rialto Square Theatre in downtown Joliet from demolition some 40 years ago, no action was too extreme for childhood polio survivor Dorothy Mavrich.
The Joliet Area Historical Society will honor Mavrich, 93, of Joliet, on Oct. 5 at the 12th Annual Gala DreamMakers Ball, presenting her with its DreamMaker award.
Mavrich was a regular at the theater, but financial difficulties had put its future in doubt.
“I’d catch the tail end of movies at the end of the day when I was done teaching piano lessons,” Mavrich said. “Once I went to hear the organ concert. I thought, ‘My God, I can’t believe they’re going to tear this down for a parking garage.’ ”
That was in the early 1970s. But Mavrich, a former Joliet Conservatory piano teacher, held a can and stood on street corners to raise awareness and help raise the $500,000 needed to buy the theater. She invested her own money, hosted fundraisers, formed the Will County Cultural Arts Association in 1975 so others could help, persistently attended city council meetings, requested appointments with the owners and endured the nickname of “crackpot.”
“Somebody at one of those council meetings — I don’t remember who — said I needed to ‘get an organization’ and ‘find a millionaire,’ ” Mavrich said. “They didn’t like that I kept coming back to the meetings.”
In the end, her efforts prevailed. A total of $6 million was raised to buy and restore the Rialto Square Theatre, owned and operated by the Will County Metropolitan and Auditorium Authority, Mavrich said.
Each year, the museum selects an area “dream maker” to honor at its annual fundraising ball, said Alethia Marx, events manager. It seeks an individual who has made significant contributions to Will County history. Mavrich’s enthusiastic determination to save the Rialto Square Theatre from destruction, Marx said, fit the concept.
The theatre, which hosts concerts, plays, expos and other events, was built in 1926.
“Every day, the Rialto makes dreams come true,” Marx said. “Little kids dance their recitals on stage and people come to hear their favorite performers or see their favorite comedians on stage.”
The theme of this year’s ball is “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” The event begins at 6 p.m. at the Joliet Area Historical Museum, 204 N. Ottawa St., Joliet.
Lynne Lichtenauer, former executive director of the Rialto Square Theatre and a board member of the Rialto Square Theatre Foundation, said the theater features multiple architectural styles and an entryway reminiscent of the Palace of Versailles.
“In the early days, it showcased vaudeville, silent movies and some of the biggest performers, like the Marx Brothers, Bob Hope and Jimmy Durante,” Lichtenauer said.
After the purchase and restoration of the Rialto Square Theatre was completed, a new problem arose. The theatre had no budget for its first season. So again, Mavrich got busy.
“I sold 800 seat plaques for a hundred dollars each, $80,000 worth of seat plaques,” Mavrich said.
Any regrets? None, Mavrich said, since she firmly believes the cultural health of a city is vital to its economic survival.
“It’s the most beautiful theater in the world,” Mavrich said. “Victor Borge said on the night of the opening that he’d appeared in every major theater in the world and none was as beautiful as the Rialto. The night Liberace walked on stage he said, ‘Finally, a theater to match my wardrobe.’ ”