Showing off the Louisa Town Hall and future arts center

By Pat Wilson
The Central Virginian July 6, 2006

Donning brightly painted hard hats, community members walked the halls of the former Louisa High School on Fredericksburg Avenue and marveled at the restoration efforts that have converted the abandoned block structure into offices for the town of Louisa.

But, to the board of directors of the non-profit Louisa Downtown Development Corporation, the gutted auditorium in the rear and a proposed addition to northwest side was the focus of attention.

hardhat

Photo: Louisa town manager Brian Marks and his wife, Danielle, (back to camera) pause to speak with Delegate Bill Janis, 56th Legislative district, and Patrick Hanley, chairman of the Louisa County Chamber of Commerce, while touring the future theater of the Louisa Arts Center, located in the historic Louisa High School on Fredericksburg Avenue.

The organization plans to create the Louisa Arts Center, a state-of-the-art theater in the space where students formerly held assemblies and graduation ceremonies, along with art-oriented classrooms on the second floor.

Also on the LDDC agenda is a gallery which will allow citizens to host receptions using a catering kitchen while on its walls local artists will display their work.

The LDDC-sponsored Hard Hat Tour last Saturday garnered interest as visitors viewed the renovations to the first floor and the theater’s roughed-in mezzanine in which sound/light facilities will be located.

A video presentation featuring interviews with former students drew an audience, and light refreshments completed the activities.

The four-hour-long event was part of the culminating effort of the LDDC to encourage individuals to support the historic preservation of a building that meant so much to county youth for three-quarters of a century.

“What was a dream in 2003 is becoming a reality in 2006,” said Pam Stone, LDDC chairperson. “The first phase of this public-private partnership is complete. We now need to raise an additional $600,000 in our capital campaign by the end of the year to complete the job.”

Stone’s remarks were delivered at a dinner the previous evening at the Tanyard Country Club pavilion. The occasion was to thank those who have donated approximately $1 million toward the project, and to spur others to support the final phase of the restoration.

The generosity of the William A. Cooke Foundation (Cooke-Haley Auditorium) and the Louisa County Board of Supervisors, particularly through the leadership of Chairman Fitzgerald Barnes, Patrick Henry district, as well as that of John Jerl Purcell Jr. and Harold W. Purcell (Purcell Gallery), were specifically mentioned by Stone.

“There are too many individuals to name,” said Stone. “But, our thanks goes to each and every one. We have also had successful grant applications and the benefit of historic tax credits.”

Earlier, during an evening tour of the school, Del. Bill Janis, 56th legislative district, announced that, through a budget amendment, the LDDC will receive $50,000 this fiscal year from the General Assembly. Senator R. Edward “Edd” Houck, 17th district, was also instrumental in obtaining the funds.

At the dinner, John Thomasson gave $3,000 to the effort and pledged an additional $7,000 from his foundation.

“Christine [his wife] was a teacher at the school [Louisa Elementary], and I am proud to say that this will be for her also,” he said. “You need to give back to the local people you grew up and live with.”

Stone mentioned the LDDC’s efforts to challenge alumni to contribute. She read a letter from Martha McIntire of Green Springs who donated $1,933 in memory of her second cousin, Pallison Broaddus Hanger, a 1933 graduate.

A. G. “Sambo” Johnson of Mineral declared a matching grant, up to $5,000, for money contributed by his classmates.

“We are looking for other former students to do similar things,” said Stone. “The school is so rich with memories, and we want to honor that and have them have ownership [in the restoration].”

In introducing the LDDC directors, Stone said that they represent a “county-wide effort” with a complement of talents. She also noted the work of Shirley Stewart, fund developer, and Brian Marks, town manager, who has overseen the project.

Dining entertainment on Friday evening included Jim Lyon on the keyboard, and three operatic arias sung by Leanne Pettit, a mezzo-soprano. Pettit is a graduate of Louisa County High School who is pursuing her doctor of musical arts at Louisiana State University.

McIntire spoke to the vision of former Town of Louisa Mayor Charles Rosson, who escorted her on a tour of the “abandoned and dilapidated school, an empty house and overgrown woods” in 2002. He reminded her of the historic significance of the decaying building, the first publicly-funded school in the Commonwealth, and his goal to save the structure.

“He said, this is where the new town hall will be, and this is where the town museum will be, and, over here, will be a park and playground,” she said. “And, right there, is the new arts center. He saw restoration, renewal and regeneration.”

Acknowledging that Rosson had “the courage” to undertake the monumental task, McIntire commented that he gained the support of the town council, county officials and the public.

“That is a vision. They took an opportunity and the window opened and they held it in their hands,” she said.

McIntire urged those present to support the LDDC in its final push to achieve the $1.6 million goal, and then become “ambassadors” encouraging others to join in the development of the arts center. She emphasized the value of music, art and drama education in promoting self-discipline and building character.

“All human passion is wrapped up in theater … from the beginning of time,” she said.

The LDDC is anticipating diverse performances in the 212-seat venue which will open the “window of opportunity” to all area citizens, according to McIntire.

“This can become the golden centerpiece of our cultural life,” she said. “This is something for us and for other generations.”

Numerous levels of contributions are sought. Any individual, business or civic group interested in joining financially in the project can contact Stone at (540) 967-2582.

Additional information can be found at the website, www.louisaarts.org.