Landmark Midway Theater languishes in limbo

By Jack McCarthy Chronicle Media
The exterior of the Midway Theater on State Street shows peeling paint, a partly broken facade and dirt-streaked windows.

The exterior of the Midway Theater on State Street in Rockford shows peeling paint, a partly broken facade and dirt-streaked windows.

Haphazardly piled theater seats are visible through dirty windows and a warning sign discouraging entry is slapped on a doorway of the seemingly forgotten onetime downtown movie house.

Surprisingly, dingy bulbs still illuminate parts of marquee but repeated visits to the property find locked doors and no one home.

It’s an apt metaphor for the decaying Midway Theater, begging for attention while sitting forlorn and unused east of Rockford’s downtown.

The property is one of 25 locally designated landmarks — so named by the city. It’s also recognized by the National Register of Historic Places as part of a 10-building East Rockford Historic District.

Midway was once an entertainment mecca for downtown Rockford, featuring a distinctive Spanish Renaissance style with carved stone facade and a 90-foot tower.

According to background information from the Landmarks Illinois preservation group, original plans called for theater space seating up to 2,000 people, 21 upper level apartments, ground floor space for four retail establishments, a basement bowling alley and even air-conditioning.

Midway began life as a silent movie theater operated as part of a 16-theater Ascher Brothers of Chicago chain and movies were shown until a 1980 fire. The main auditorium was also home to the Rockford Symphony Orchestra until it moved into the larger, renovated Coronado Theatre complex in 2001.

Coronado was revived as part of an estimated $18.5 million project. Preservations faced a choice reviving either Coronado or Midway, but not both.

The departure of the symphony left Midway with no prime tenant and little other use.

There have been periodic reports and discussions of a Midway rebound as a possible performing arts, commercial, office complex. Current owner Peter Crane reportedly informed city officials last spring of interest in restoring the property but didn’t offer specifics.

In 2008, city historic preservation officials even sought advice and help from preservation experts.

“HPC staff and the City of Rockford’s Commercial Development Manager talked with representatives of both Landmark Illinois and the Chicago office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation regarding the Midway but were unable to come up with any firm solutions,” the 2008 report said. “It has been listed on Landmark Illinois’ listed of available and imperiled buildings. While new owners for the theater have come forward, there is still no clear path to renovating the Midway.”

Seven years later, Midway Theater’s status largely remains unchanged.

There has also been recent work on the structure. In 2012 a portion of the roof collapsed and was repaired in 2013. City officials reportedly say the building is structurally sound.

But as another cold weather season approaches the unused Midway still remains in limbo.





— Landmark Midway Theater languishes in limbo —