The Community Center for the Performing Arts in the historic Woodmen of the World (WOW) Hall sits at the West end of downtown Eugene, a pink but low-slung 1932 Art Deco building that once served as a venue for dances and gatherings of its era.
In restoring the historic building and reviving it as an arts center, WOW Hall had received grants from the Lane County Cultural Coalition and Oregon Arts Commission, as well as the Kinsman Foundation and other prestigious groups. But FY14 marked the first time the intersecting arts and heritage organization received a Cultural Trust Development grant award.
“There are organizations that have applied for Cultural Development grants multiple times, and it takes a few attempts to get their proposal just right,” said Trust Manager Kimberly Howard. “You’re rooting for them and it becomes a happy occasion when they make it.”
Such was the case with WOW Hall. As an Arts Commission and cultural coalition grantee, the group was familiar to the Trust. “(WOW Hall grant writer) John Pincus was like a celebrity in our office. He called frequently during the spring of 2013 – he was taking the application process very seriously,” said Trust Donor Relations Coordinator, Raissa Fleming. “When their grant application came in, 11 minutes ahead of deadline, we all cheered.”
Cultural Development grants are awarded by panels of independent subject matter experts, and “the WOW Hall application was determined by the Heritage Panel to be a well-written application for a project that showed great merit,” said Howard.
Staff had the opportunity to tour WOW Hall in April, two weeks in advance of National Heritage Month (May), and they were charmed and enchanted. The building acts as a performing and visual arts center, with notable Oregon bands playing in an intimate downstairs coffee house; various dance classes, community theatre and musical performances in the main hall, and monthly exhibits by local artists. Murals adorn the outside walls and landscaping brings cheer to other-abled patrons using the ADA ramp at the side of the building. Doors, gates, archways and most fixtures have been lovingly restored to their former glory. The Cultural Development grant helped WOW Hall restore the curved wooden built-in benches lining the main hall.
Joining the tour, painting contractor Ron Saylor mentioned that his business has flourished with the restoration. “This was a big job for us,” he said. Saylor has also done work on the new Oregon Contemporary Theatre building a few blocks away and is gaining a reputation in the cultural community for his diligence and diversity of skill.
“It’s an important example of how heritage and the arts fuel the Oregon economy,” said Howard. “The money granted by the Cultural Trust stays in Oregon and helps local businesses grow – whether that be the arts venue itself, or the restaurant, hotel, retail shop down the street, the print shop who prints playbills, or the contractor and subcontractors who remodel and restore the buildings.”
Meanwhile, WOW Hall plans to recreate the original streetlamps around the center, leading to more work for Lane County lighting, electrical and historic preservation contractors, enhancing the downtown experience and giving the community an ever more vital center for the arts.