* on National Register
of Historic Places
Click on photo to enlarge.
In 1837, Orange C. Baird, David Howard, and Dr. Nathan Collins built a hotel on the lot on where the Arcada Theatre now stands. Boarders could expect few luxuries in the spare building. One of the earliest boarders, Bela T. Hunt, bought the hotel and renovated it. Following construction of an addition and other improvements, Hunt reopened the hotel with a ball on July 4, 1838. Peter J. Burchell served as proprietor of the hotel for much of its existence. During the Mexican War and the Civil War, the hotel served as a recruiting headquarters. By 1889 the building's condition was quickly deteriorating: "The Old Burchell Hotel is like an old man tottering to its fall...it stands with a careening frame, deserted, fifty-three years after its construction." Later that year, the building was dismantled. The lot remained vacant until the construction of the Arcada Theatre.
St. Charles gained yet another of its landmark
public buildings in the 1920s. In 1926, following much fanfare,
the Arcada theater opened to the public. Lester Norris (1900-1981),
built the Arcada in hopes of providing a place of entertainment
and enjoyment for people of the area. Much like Colonel
E.J. Baker, Norris invested his engergies and assets in
the improvement of his hometown. Norris was a commericial
artist and cartoonist for the Chicago Tribune. Designed
by Elmer Berhns, the three story theater stands as a prime
example of the Spanish Colonial Revival Style. While most
of the exterior elements of the building remain, the original
facade did not include the marquee that is seen today--that
was added in 1943. The final cost of the building was approximately
$500,000. On its opening night, September 6, 1926, visitors
from all over northern Illinois first entered the building.
Lavish decoration greeted the patrons. A fountain in the
main foyer, nature scenes simulated by projecting rocks
and waterfalls, and the combination of Spanish and Native
American designs illustrated in the artwork and woodwork
immersed patrons in luxury. Inside the 1,000 seat theater
itself, a Marr and Colton organ accompanied the silent movies
that flickered on the screen. The theater also boasted a
grand stage. Patrons of the Arcada had several options:
not only were they able to watch the latest movie, but they
also were able to view a stage show. On opening night, two
showings of a feature film "The Last Frontier", an Our Gang
comedy, and a vaudeville show entertained guests. Norris
also invited theater managers from Chicago to see the new
theater. The Arcada Building also housed stores and businesses,
a tea room, and a lodge room on the third floor. Over the
years, these other rooms have served as places for receptions,
lodge meetings, and social gatherings. Famous entertainers
have appeared at the Arcada. John P. Sousa, George Burns
and Gracie Allen, Edgar Bergen, and Jeannete MacDonald once
stood upon the stage. In the 1950s, local play companies
presented popular muscials such as Brigadoon and Carousel.
The Arcada remained in the possession of the Norris family
until the 1980s. From 1980 until 1992, Ruby Frank owned
the theater. In the early 1990s, Classic Cinemas bought
the Aracada and hoped to refurbish and revive the elements
that had been lost to time. To do so, they had to uncover
many of the ornamental elements which had been covered or
painted over during the theater's lifetime. Today, one can
watch a movie at the Arcada and step back into time. Although
the theater may not be in its original conditon, it still
gives one a sense of what once existed on opening day in
1926. While modern improvements, such as a new sound system
were added, those restoring the Arcada also strove to recreate
the decorative elements that reflect the original decor.
Thanks to the restoration of the Arcada Theater and its
architectural and entertainment importance, the Illinois
Historic Preservation Agency placed the theater on the National
Register of Historic Places in 1994.
For additional photographs, see these
more fully described in the Bibliography.
Celebrating History p 82
Arcada Theatre Vertical File
Reflections of St. Charles p 120
St. Charles on Parade p 52
St. Charles Illinois p 124, 125, 126
Old St. Charles Post Office
- "Arcada Nears Completion." St. Charles
Chronicle 17 June 1926.
- "Arcada Opens; Last Frontier." St.
Charles Chronicle 2 Sept. 1926.
- "Arcada Opens; A Multitude in Attendence."
St. Charles Chronicle 7 Sept. 1926.
- "Arcade Building is Spanish in Architecture."
St. Charles Chronicle 11 June 1925.
- "Arcade Equipment is Already Here." St.
Charles Chronicle 18 March 1926.
- Costello, Mary Ann. "Arcada Listed as
Historic Place." Kane County Chronicle 14 July
- Davis, Ann. "Arcada Withstands Test of
Grime, Time." Kane County Chronicle 15 June 1993,
- Davis, Ann. "New Tenant Plans to Revive
Arcada's Ambiance." Kane County Chronicle 23 March
- "Opening Date of Arcada is on Labor Day."
St. Charles Chronicle 19 Aug. 1926.
- Clauter, Hazel. Our Community: Units
I-VI--Historical Information Compiled for Third Grade
- Pearson, Ruth Ann. Reflections of
St. Charles. Elgin: Brethern Press, 1976.
- Pierotti, Ann. "Times Have Changed Since
Arcada Theater's Heyday." St. Charles Chronicle
8 April 1981.
- "Remember When." Kane County Chronicle
11 June 1993, C:3.
- "Theater Got Rave Reviews." Kane County
Chronicle 23 March 1993, B:12.
- Warner, Phyllis. "Happy Birthday Arcada."
St. Charles Chronicle 1 Sept. 1976, II:1.
- Weber, G.G. "Arcada Building Carries
$1 Million Price Tag." Kane County Chronicle 15
Sept. 1992, B:12.