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Designer of Coronado Theater restoration dies at 90

ROCKFORD – The original stage of the Coronado Theatre built in 1927 was the size of a “Grape Nuts box.”

That’s what an architect who later designed the building’s renovation for its reopening in 2001 told fundraisers early-on.

“We need a super-sized Cheerios box,” Piet “Peter” van Dijk said while speaking with Mary Ann Smith, who led the $18.5 million renovation of the downtown Coronado Performing Arts Center with her now-late husband Gordon.

“It was a vaudeville stage, and this was an expensive and huge endeavor,” Smith said Monday, 3 days after Dijk’s death in Cleveland at age 90. “We needed a new stage and backstage for technical support” for modern performances, she said of the venue at 314 N. Main St.

“We had to make changes in order to make (the Coronado) an economic engine,” Smith said. The ornate Coronado hosts musicians, comedians and theater shows and is widely considered a downtown gem.

Smith said Dijk and his partner Paul Westlake of what is now DLR Group/Westlake Reed Leskosky of Cleveland educated those behind the restoration. “Piet and Paul empowered us to understand and be able to raise the money,” she said. Arrangements were made to acquire the former Jackson piano building next door in part to expand the stage.

“We would not have the Coronado unless we had these remarkable, experienced architects,” Smith said.

Van Dijk died at his home. Pat Hyland, a long-time colleague of van Dijk’s, said in a statement that van Dijk helped revive and shape Cleveland and “many of the great anchoring institutions.” He said van Dijk worked on historic theater renovations including the Blossom Music Center – summer home of the Cleveland Orchestra – the Orpheum in Phoenix, the Clemens Center in Elmira, New York, and Arts Block in Wausau, Wisconsin.

Beth Howard, executive director of the Friends of the Coronado Foundation, said van Dijk and his wife, Bobbi, returned to Rockford in recent years to attend intimate shows where audiences were seated on the stage as performers entertained. Dijk was proud of his work in restoring the theater, Howard said.

“It was a testament that he wanted to keep coming back,” Howard said.

Georgette Braun: 815-987-1331;; @GeorgetteBraun


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