B/W photo of Dorothy
  by Bob Campbell

Dorothy Mavrich   Arts Crusader

The Rialto Square Theatre in Joliet, Illinois opened in 1926 and is still one of the world’s most beautiful theatres. In 1924, six Rubens brothers teamed up to create a vaudeville movie palace. They hired the Chicago architectural firm Rapp & Rapp to
design the opulent theatre, which reflected Italian Renaissance, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Rococo, Venetian and Baroque architectural styles. The theatre took two years to build and cost nearly two million dollars, a tremendous amount at that time.

For five decades, the Rialto was hugely successful, transitioning from a vaudeville and silent movie palace to showing talkies (movies with sound) and live theatre
productions. Many of the country’s biggest stars have performed at the Rialto including Bob Hope, Andy Williams, Wayne Newton, Mitzi Gaynor, Liberace, Barbara
Mandrel, Bill Cosby, Reba McEntire, Kenny Rogers, Sammy Hagar, Alice Cooper, Jerry
Seinfeld and many, many more.

By the early 1970s, Downtown Joliet had been in decline due to many businesses, stores and movie theatres moving to the west side of town. Shopping malls were the place to be and left many downtowns deserted.

Being in Downtown Joliet, the Rialto had become a forgotten, dilapidated movie theatre, and was slated to be razed for a parking lot. Because no one seemed
interested in going downtown, and because the cost to refurbish the neglected theatre was so immense, no one thought it could be saved. No one except Dorothy
Mavrich, a local piano teacher who loved the arts, and the magnificent theatre.

In 1971, Dorothy attended a performance given on the Barton Grande Theatre Pipe Organ. She was seated in the balcony and after looking around at the incredible architecture said to herself, “This theater cannot be destroyed.” She made a promise
to herself that she would do everything in her power to save it from being torn down. Dorothy appreciated the grandeur of the theatre and had the foresight to know that it could be revived and returned to its glory days.

Dorothy made several trips to the offices of Robert Rubens (son of one of the theater’s founding owners) to discuss saving the theatre. Mr. Rubens would not see
her. However, that did not deter Dorothy. She kept going to his office and one day his door was
open and he was sitting at his desk. Dorothy walked right past his secretary and sat in front of Rubens. At first he remarked, “I don’t want to talk to you, I heard
you’re a crackpot!” Eventually Dorothy’s persistence paid off.

The Rialto Square Theatre is A-OK thanks to Dorothy Mavrich!

Following several subsequent meetings and with the blessings of the Rubens family, Dorothy initiated the campaign “Save the Rialto” in 1972 by forming the Rialto Arts Association. Dorothy needed $500,000 to purchase the theater. The rallying cry was
heard by many Jolietans who wanted the theater preserved. Fundraising began to purchase the theater from the Rubens family.

Dorothy worked relentlessly to stir up support to save the theatre — then would rush home to teach piano in the afternoons and evenings. Dorothy devoted over twenty years of her life to the campaign to save the Rialto. She coordinated and managed a team of passionate volunteers, attended hundreds of civic meetings, wrote letters to the editor, sent out press releases and worked to secure grants and private donations and overcame many bureaucratic obstacles to keep the campaign alive. Not only did she receive no compensation for her tireless efforts, she often had to pay
out of her own pocket to keep the campaign afloat.

Dorothy told her mother that they might have to dip into their own life savings when tickets for the first performance in the newly saved Rialto failed to sell. Her mother, who was always very supportive, said that was OK with her.

In 1978, the Rialto complex, thanks to Dorothy, became public property and the Joliet Metropolitan Exposition and Auditorium Authority was formed to provide leadership and restoration of the theater. Dorothy served as construction manager on the entire restoration project. On November 27, 1981, the theater reopened as a
spectacular “Performing Arts Center” with Victor Borge as the headliner.

Lynne Lichtenauer, former Executive Director of the Rialto, calls Mavrich one of her
personal heroes “because of what she gave to the city.” “Dorothy gave the Rialto back to the city,” she said. “The Rialto has been the catalyst for the entire city center redevelopment.”

All of Joliet owes a huge debt of gratitude to this indefatigable arts crusader who led the Campaign to revive and preserve one of the world’s most spectacular theatre
palaces, The Rialto Square Theatre. Bravo, Dorothy! You deserve a standing ovation!