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Dates of existence
Ravinia was originally created as an amusement park when A.C. Frost purchased it in 1904. It was intended to lure people to the Chicago and Milwaukee Electric Railroad. The amusement park had a baseball diamond, an electric fountain and a casino building that could be used for dining and dancing. By 1910, Ravinia went into receivership; as the amusement park was not able to lure enough people to the railroad. A group of residents, convinced of the value of the park, purchased it and formed the Ravinia Company. The park re-opened in 1911, as a summer venue for classical music, under the leadership of Louis Eckstein. In 1912, opera was added to the concert program and was a main attraction throughout the “Golden Age” of opera until the 1930s. Many of opera’s biggest names performed at Ravinia. During the Depression, the park closed from 1932-1936. Louis Eckstein died in 1935; his widow donated the park to the festival association in 1944. In May 1949, the original wooden pavilion burned down. Six weeks later, the park opened on schedule ready to proceed with its summer programming. The first music director, Seiji Ozawa, was appointed in 1964. During the 1970s, concert opera performances returned. By the 1980s, the festival expanded to include a professional studies division, the Steans Music Institute. During the 1990s, Zarin Mehta, CEO of Ravinia pioneered the jazz festival-within-a-festival and oversaw the renovation of many of the park’s physical facilities. By the late 1990s, the summer music program was expanded. By the turn of the 21st century, Welz Kauffman, the president and CEO of Ravinia, created a music theater initiative which sought to recognize influential composers of music theater. A new music theater branch was added to the Steans Music Institute, focusing on the role of an orchestra in Music Theater. Most recently, Ravinia has focused on community outreach and providing educational opportunities. The festival runs educational programs throughout Chicago public schools. In 2003, One Score, One Chicago was introduced to promote interest in classical music. Today, Ravinia continues to bring many different types of great music to the community, both through great performances and educational opportunities.