The Arcada Theater was built in 1926 by local millionaire and Chicago Tribune cartoonist Lester J. Norris. The new theater was a $500,000 example of the Norris family’s confidence in the future of St. Charles . With only 5,000 residents in town, 1,009 seats were installed. A popular stop on the Vaudeville circuit, the Arcada was described in the St. Charles Chronicle in this quote: “There may be larger theatres in Chicago , but for beauty of auditorium and artistic stage setting, there are none superior to the Arcada of St. Charles.”
Upon the Arcada’s grand opening, the public came in such large numbers that hundreds were unable to gain entrance. Chicagoans arrived by a special railway car to see the featured film “The Last Frontier” and the Vaudeville acts of Fibber McGee and Molly Lor. Patrons also heard a recital on the famous $25,000 Marr and Colton silver and red organ, which was adorned with flamingo carvings.
The Arcada became known as one of the outstanding Vaudeville houses in the Fox River Valley . Many legendary stars have graced the stage, including George Burns and Gracie Allen, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, Olivia DeHavilland, the John Phillip Sousa Band, Cornelia Otis Skinner, Vincent Price, Jeanette McDonald, Walter Slezak and Maria Von Trapp, to name a few.
In May 2005, new life was breathed into the aging building when Onesti Entertainment Corporation assumed ownership of theater operations. As a producer of spectacular entertainment experiences all over the country, OEC brought ” Big City ” shows to the western suburbs of Chicago . But before the stars would come, changes to the infrastructure were vital. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent on new dressing rooms, repairs and paint. Upgrades to the sound system, lighting, stage and rest room facilities were also added. Onesti Entertainment exclusively books the talent and produces all the shows.
Today, the “Gem of the Fox Valley ” is back to its original state of elegance, complete with the original pipe organ that rises from beneath the stage floor. Some of today’s most iconic stars – including Mickey Rooney, Jerry Lewis and Martin Short – perform before the venue’s nine hundred enthusiastic audience members. With each impactful show, the historic Arcada Theater lives on, enabling thousands to experience the joy of world class entertainment.