Recognizing the arts

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Crystal Lake’s Raue Center for the Arts will be honored by the McHenry County Historical Society with a plaque on Feb. 8.  News Bulletin photo.

McHenry County history group salutes revived Raue Center

The El Tovar Theatre in Crystal Lake has a new lease on as the new Raue Center for the Arts.

The McHenry County Historical Society will honor the center and an extensive renovation with a plaque ceremony at 11 a.m. on Feb. 8.

The Raue Center is located at 26 N. Williams St.

It’s been a busy place since reopening in 2001 with an estimated 600,000 visitors and performances by more than 7,000 local and regional artists.

Originally opened in 1929, the building was advertised as “Northern Illinois most beautiful theater”, according to an account in the Crystal Lake Herald.

Approximately 8,000 people flocked to Crystal Lake during the four-day grand opening event. Seating 900, and having the movie magic of “Talkies”, using RCA’s photophone equipment, guaranteed the El Tovar’s triumphant debut.  

Besides screening the very best movies, the El Tovar also featured high class vaudeville acts on weekends. 

Designed by theater architect Elmer F. Behrns, the original two-story El Tovar Theater was complete with dressing rooms, an orchestra pit, modern stage, and large mezzanine.  

Behrns was best known for his atmospheric architecture of fantasy and the El Tovar, with its mix of California Mission and Spanish Eclectic, was no exception, inside and out.  

Nine theatres in Illinois were designed by Behrns, showcasing exotic styles that held a fascination for the public.  

The El Tovar also boasted apartments and two flanking store fronts; all at the cost of just over $165,000 (about $2.2 million in today dollars) 

The theater operated as the El Tovar for 23 years, and then, in 1952, was sold and renamed the Lake.  

Eventually resold again it became Showplace 8, part of a multi-theater group. 

The age of television and home videos greatly impacted movie theaters and the future of the El Tovar did not look good. The stage was becoming unsafe, the dressing rooms were crumbling, walls were flaking and the roof was leaking, but the tide was about to change. 

With a gift from The Lucile Raue Family Estate along with matching funds, hard work and community support, the old theater was purchased and in 1999 work began to restore and modernize the facility. 

In August of 2001 a first-class venue for the visual and performing arts emerged, the Raue Center, named for its benefactor Lucile Raue. 

During renovation the Raue’s board members, staff, and craftsmen paid tribute to the El Tovar by preserving and enhancing its original motif.

Today, just as in 1929, the entrance is flanked by two wide tapering, ivory colored, Terra Cotta towers, supporting an ornate Mission Style gable. The entire front parapet wall is capped off with rich flowing Terra Cotta. 

The buff brick façade is accented by ornate timber supports, arched openings with Terra Cotta quoining, highlighted by bright clay tile roofs, all giving one a taste of what’s inside.  

Enter the lobby, under the magnificent Raue Center for the Arts marquee, and visitors are transported to a Spanish courtyard or arcade, complete with impressive stenciled roof timbers, textured stucco, stained glass and ornamental scrolled ironwork. 

A look down reveals the one-of-a-kind, 85-year-old, Terra Cotta mosaic floor.

The visual fantasy continues upon entering the theater. The richly upholstered seating for 900 is surrounded by a warm and friendly Spanish plaza, complete with whimsical balconies, fanciful staircases, and cozy arched porticos, covered by an assortment of clay tile roofs. 

This, all under a midnight blue sky complete with twinkling stars.  

Today, the Raue Center offers opportunities to witness contemporary, vibrant performing arts on a state-of-the-art stage.

For more information on the McHenry County Historical Society visit For Raue Center programing visit


–News Bulletin news sources