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Cultural Institutions

Genesee Theatre

In 1926, A.L. Brumund, H.C. Burnett, and D.T. Webb purchased land, at the corner of Genesee and Clayton streets, from the YMCA for $130,000. Their wish was to create a community center for Waukegan focused on high-quality entertainment and commercial and living spaces. A year and a half and $1 million later, the luxurious movie palace named the Genesee Theatre opened to the public.

Although there were three other theaters in Waukegan, the Genesee Theatre was designed to be distinct. The flourishing growth of this area just north of Chicago justified the creation of a deluxe palace unrivaled throughout most of the country, and it was hoped that the proposed theater would play a role in the current growth of Waukegan.

Waukegan contractor Alva Weeks and Chicago architect Edward P. Steinberg were hired to construct the theater. Steinberg had just built the BelPark and State Theatres in Chicago within the last few years. Construction of the Genesee began in September 1927 on the land on which the old 1912 YMCA building stood as well as two other buildings to the north. The YMCA had already moved one block west in 1925. The plan was to have stores on the main floor and kitchenette apartments and office suites on the four upper floors all around the south and west sides. The theater itself would take up the middle of the building.

No expense was spared in the creation of the Genesee Theatre. The outside faŤade was built from terra cotta and pressed brick in ornate design. The main entrance was located on Genesee Street and opened into a huge lobby with a large chandelier. The interior was designed in a Spanish Renaissance style using caen stone, which is a light yellow limestone, and antique plaster décor. The large center dome in the auditorium was fashioned from hammered silver. More than 1,200 yards of tapestry fabric, several tons of marble from the Carrera quarries in Italy, and lighting throughout the theater combined to make it the most lavish building in Waukegan.

The stage was equipped with the newest technology in stagecraft in order to accommodate live theatre, like vaudeville, music presentations and film. A massive $25,000 Barton Grande pipe organ was a focal point of the Genesee. For comfort, the theater was outfitted with the most advanced heating and cooling system of its time.

On Dec. 25, 1927, the Genesee opened to the public with four sold out shows that included the film “The Valley of the Giants.” In 1952, the Genesee Theatre was renovated with new seats, a new sound system, and some changes to the décor.

In 1982, the theater stopped showing movies due to economic decline and the rise of major movie cineplexes. And in 1989, it officially closed and went up for sale.

The City of Waukegan purchased the building in 1999 and began renovations at a cost of almost $23 million with the help of over 120 volunteers. The Genesee Theatre reopened on Dec. 3, 2004 with sold out shows.

Lake Forest Symphony

Celebrating more than 55 years, the Lake Forest Symphony is the only fully professional orchestra in Lake County. The orchestra has been honored numerous times by the Illinois Council of Orchestras, winning Illinois Orchestra of the Year in 2006 and Symphony Guild of the Year in 2006 and 2011. Music Director Emeritus Alan Heatherington won Conductor of the Year in 2005 and 2012, as well as the prestigious Cultural Leadership award in 2010. Susan Lape won Executive Director of the Year in 2014.

The Lake Forest Symphony presents five concert pairs in its Classical Series and regularly features prominent guest artists. A pre-concert lecture by musicologist Jim Kendros enhances each performance. Complimentary post-concert receptions also offer a unique opportunity for audience members to meet Lake Forest Symphony musicians and to enjoy refreshments and lively conversation.

Robert Kalter and William English founded the Lake Forest Symphony in 1957 as a chamber orchestra of volunteer musicians. By 1965 the group had over 60 players, and in 1988 became fully professional. Under the visionary leadership of conductors Victor Aitay, Paul Anthony McRae, and David Itkin, and Alan Heatherington the Symphony firmly established a distinguished reputation.

In 1991 the symphony was chosen from 12 orchestras in the Midwest to be a featured guest orchestra at the American Symphony Orchestra League’s National Conference in Chicago. In October of the same year, pianist Andre Watts performed two benefit concerts with the symphony to celebrate its 35th anniversary. Featured guest artists have included Michelle Areyzaga, Jennifer Frautschi, Ilya Kaler, Mark Kaplan, Andreas Klein, Jorge Federico Osorio, Rachel Barton Pine, David Taylor, Luk‡ Vondr‡cek, Ralph Votapek, Wendy Warner and Jeffrey Work.

Ravinia Festival

The Ravinia Festival is the oldest outdoor music festival in the United States, with a series of outdoor concerts and performances held every summer from June to September. It has been the summer home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra since 1936. Located in Highland Park, the festival operates on the grounds of Ravinia Park, with a variety of outdoor and indoor performing arts facilities.

The Ravinia neighborhood, once an incorporated village before annexation in 1899, is known as Ravinia, and retained its own post office until autumn 2010. The business district on Roger Williams Ave., within walking distance from the Ravinia Festival grounds, includes neighborhood service businesses and restaurants. Ravinia takes its name from the ravines found nearby along the shoreline of Lake Michigan.

For most attendees, Ravinia is experienced on the 36-acre parkland and lawn. The unique setting allows for open seating and picnicking, where families and attendees can enjoy food and drink on the lawn, with a powerful sound system broadcasting the live performance throughout the park. Most attendees choose to bring complete picnics and dinners to shows, with various lawn chairs, coolers full of food, blankets, candles and lawn accessories in tow.

Ravinia is one of the few concert venues in the country to allow full meals to be brought in and consumed at concerts, even allowing alcoholic beverages. Accordingly, most grocery stores and specialty restaurants in and around the Highland Park area offer ready-to-eat “Ravinia picnics” for purchase.

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