Your support is critical and appreciated!
Donations can be sent to:
Richland County Performing Arts Council
PO Box 188
Richland Center, WI 53581
RCPAC is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and your donations are tax deductible.
100 Women Project
Together, let us preserve the only remaining building that the Federated Women’s Club began…
From the time following the civil war forward, Richland Center was home to a large number of social and volunteer organizations. The women’s groups in the community were especially active, and in the summer 1882 the Women’s Club of Richland Center was founded.
By 1908, the Federation of Women’s Clubs began to actively pursue the construction of a new city hall. Since there was a shortage of public meeting space in the city, the Federation promoted the idea that a new building should include not only meeting spaces, but an auditorium so that large community gatherings could be held. The women met in April 1908 to begin planning a fund drive for the erection of a new city auditorium, and in June they circulated a petition requesting the city council call an election that would bond the city for a combination city hall and auditorium.
The Federation of Women’s Clubs raised the money to outfit and furnish the lower level space, where they met regularly for meals and other club activities. They also made the space available to other organizations to rent. View flyer here.
Women’s Leadership Committee
Susan Calnin Co-Chair
Lee Honer Co-Chair, in loving memory and honor
Claudia Berres Jean Birkett Judy Davis Carol Deckert
Nancy Keegan Sharon Schmitz Carol Stevenson Sheila Troxel
To join the committee, contact Susan Calnin at 608-604-0298.
100 Men Project
Imagine the Possibilities….
There is a strong history of the performing arts and citizen participation in Richland Center. For nearly a century, Wisconsin’s first Municipal Auditorium was the “center of it all” for the community. The building came to be through the tireless effort and vision of the Federated Woman’s Clubs working with Mayor Perl Lincoln, city government, and local businessmen.
One of the first fundraising efforts following the building’s purchase paid homage to this group of dedicated women through the 100 Women campaign which was successful in raising $100,000. We are looking to add to our list of names for the 100 Men initiative, in honor of the men past, present, and future who share this vision of the citizens of 100 years ago who worked to create this magnificent performance venue.
Should you choose to Imagine the Possibilities, your donation will be used to fund the rehabilitation and restoration of the first floor mezzanine and add proper bathrooms to this space. View flyer here.
This story appeared first in the Sunday edition of the Wisconsin State Journal newspaper.
The price tag was less than a cup of coffee, but the real cost is significantly more.
The return on the investment, however, could be priceless for this city’s downtown.
Six years after the Richland County Performing Arts Council handed $1 to the city to purchase the blighted Richland Center City Auditorium, major work could finally begin this year to transform the 100-year-old facility back into a respected host for the arts.
The auditorium continues to book shows and community events, but a $5 million restoration project is designed to pump new life into the brick and concrete beast at the corner of North Central Avenue and East Mill Street and serve as a catalyst for more business development in the city’s heart.
The massive furnace and roof already have been replaced but the latest plans call for replacing worn seats, expanding and upgrading the restrooms, adding an elevator, creating more room for mingling in the lobby and, if all goes well, replacing the antique store in the basement with a pub and restaurant.
“We have to make this something for everyone,” said Norbert Calnin, vice president of the arts council. “We want this to be an all-purpose venue.”
Vaudeville shows, Jack Benny and Liberace played here. The stage’s floor strained under the weight of President William Howard Taft. Thousands of students celebrated their eighth-grade graduations here with all 1,000 seats filled by proud family.
That rich past also is being used to raise money for the renovations.
On Saturday, Lon Arbegust, a Richland Center native with a love for the region’s history, will give a presentation in the auditorium that features historic postcards, many of them taken by local photographer Albert Rockwell between 1898 and 1918.
The black-and-white images include scenes of the auditorium, pictures of churches, businesses, people and the landscape. There are panoramic views of Bear Valley, the Pine River and Twin Bluffs near Sextonville. Postcards, at one time, were a primary way of communicating and also offered a way to promote a community.
“It’s like 19th century texting or Tweeting,” said Arbegust, who has about 500 postcards in his collection.
Funds for the $1.2 million first phase of the project are almost secured, thanks to a $404,000 grant from the Janesville-based Jeffris Family Foundation that requires local people to raise $809,000. The deadline to hit the goal is June 30 and officials say they are about $375,000 short but are working with potential donors who could cover the spread.
The first phase includes the restrooms and lobby, with the second phase focused on the auditorium, primarily the seating, walls and ceiling. The third phase would redo the stage area. Organizers hope each phase includes grants from Jeffris, with the project completed in about five years.
The plans are grand for a city of 5,100 and a county of just over 18,000, but then again, it was forward thinking that created the auditorium in the first place.
Controversial at the time, the auditorium was Wisconsin’s first municipal auditorium that was built after a change in state law enabled cities to operate income-generating properties.
And it was the suffragettes, who helped create the hospital and library, who successfully lobbied their husbands to go forward with the idea of an auditorium for plays, music and civic gatherings. The building doubled as city hall.
“It was really women who brought about this auditorium,” Calnin said. “Part of the story about this building is about that.”
That is also why the arts council created a campaign asking 100 women to each donate $1,000 toward the project. The idea raised more than $100,000.
Known for its progressive politics at the turn of the century with a mix of Republicans, Democrats and Socialists, Richland Center, because of its geography, is one of those places that is forced to be independent. The city was dry for decades and unlike most Wisconsin towns, has few bars. It also is the county seat and a central hub of commerce for those living too far from La Crosse to the northwest and Madison to the southeast.
UW-Richland Center is here along with several dairy manufacturers and the A.D. German warehouse designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. There is a cross section of retail, much of it on a long stretch of Highway 14 on the city’s southeast side but with a considerable amount in the downtown.
Although Meadow’s Furniture closed earlier this year and the building that houses Papa’s Donuts was heavily damaged by fire recently, many see potential for growth in the city’s center. A former drugstore is being converted into a restaurant and other once-vacant buildings are showing signs of life.
“The auditorium could be an anchor,” said Arbegust, who lives in a home so true to its 1869 construction that the flat-screen television looks out of place in the living room.
Peter Lawrence, 64, took the plunge with five other investors about 20 years ago when he helped save the former Masonic Temple building, across the street from the auditorium.
The building, constructed in 1922, was in disrepair but Lawrence, a transplant from Milwaukee, and his partners pumped more than $200,000 into the building to convert it into offices, although the second-floor dance hall and kitchen remain intact, along with the third-floor meeting room.
The restored auditorium could mean more uses for his building, renamed Blue Highways, after the color of roads on maps that at one time connected small towns such as Richland Center.
“I think it’s very important because (the auditorium) could have very well been brought down,” Lawrence said.
- Barry Adams