The Creamery Arts Center: A History

The Creamery Arts Center: A History srac_drupadmin Sun, 02/12/2017 - 09:29

Introduction

The Creamery Arts Center - Springfield, MO

 

If Cinderella were a building, she might just be The Creamery Arts Center in Springfield, Mo. Once upon a time, this venerable edifice was an overlooked eyesore, a run-down industrial structure that had seen better days and seemed headed for destruction. But then this former tobacco factory and dairy was touched by magic—in the form of creative vision. It was renovated and transformed into a bustling arts center that now serves as a center-city headquarters for the Springfield Regional Arts Council and many of the city's performing arts groups.

Today The Creamery, as the building is widely known, is not only a hub for arts administration: it is also a hands-on arts center, where students take ballet classes, create and edit videos, learn new painting techniques and participate in summer arts programs. It is an art gallery, offering a large, airy space that is home to splendid art exhibits, primarily featuring local artists, that change each month.

The Creamery is also a hard-working storage center, housing the extensive costume and scene shops of the city’s renowned Little Theatre group. It is the home of professional offices, including the headquarters of the highly regarded Springfield Symphony Orchestra. The building boasts an extensive arts library that doubles as a meeting space, and its gallery space hosts monthly art exhibits that open on the city's First Friday ArtWalk nights. It is also the home of the annual Poetry Out Loud competition and other performances each year.

Guests enjoy a performance of Operazzi, presented by the Springfield Regional Opera, in the Creamery gallery space.
Guests enjoy a performance of Operazzi, presented by the Springfield Regional Opera, in the Creamery gallery space.

The building's spectacular transformation involved no fairy godmothers waving make-believe wands. Rather, the renovation of The Creamery was made possible by the energy, enthusiasm and hard work of a surprising coalition of stakeholders. The City of Springfield, the Springfield Regional Arts Council, various local arts organizations, regional philanthopic agency the Community Foundation of the Ozarks: all pitched in to help secure the funding that made The Creamery dream a reality.

Along the way, the visionaries behind the project confronted a host of barriers, both expected and unexpected—from slithering snakes and leaky roofs to a national economic slump, from understandably turf-conscious arts boards to skeptical local business moguls.

Yet the magic happened: the building, seemingly bound for demolition, was saved. It was purchased by the city and renovated, thanks to generous donors and an imaginative use of state tax credits. Local arts organizations, some of whom were originally skeptical of the plan, eventually embraced the vision and helped make it a reality.

This history was created to salute the hard work of those who turned "what if?" into "done deal"—and to offer an example to other mid-sized American cities of how arts groups, city agencies, philanthropic organizations and local donors can come together to turn an aging building into a dynamic hub for the arts.

The Rotary Centennial outdoor classroom is a popular gathering spot in warmer months.
The Rotary Centennial outdoor classroom is a popular gathering spot in warmer months.

 

Part One: It Began with a Building

Part One: It Began with a Building srac_drupadmin Sun, 02/12/2017 - 10:06
Horse-drawn wagons line up to deliver Springfield Creamery products.
Horse-drawn wagons line up to deliver Springfield Creamery products.

The story of The Creamery Arts Center begins with the building. Located on a hillside overlooking Jordan Creek, the smallish river that runs through the historic center of Springfield, The Creamery was an industrial, primarily brick structure dating to the early 20th century. It was originally used as a tobacco factory by the Anthony family, relatives of the famed 19th century suffragist, Susan B. Anthony.

A cooperage, or barrel-making business, operated in the building at one time.
A cooperage, or barrel-making business, operated in the building at one time.

The building had been added to over the decades, in decidedly haphazard fashion, sprouting wings and annexes that were cobbled together rather than functioning as a single organic unit. In addition to serving as a tobacco factory and a cooperage, the structure was also home to the Springfield Creamery Co., a dairy firm known for presenting free musical performances and ice-cream socials on summer evenings, even in the depths of the Great Depression.

Bill Gott and son Buster (holding a string of fish) pose on a Creamery delivery truck in 1917.
Bill Gott and son Buster (holding a string of fish) pose on a Creamery delivery truck in 1917.

Some interior parts of this maze of a building were left unfinished for warehouse use, while other areas offered more finished space to a number of local businesses, including Webster Oil Co., operated by Jack Webster. Another tenant was the fledgling O'Reilly Auto Parts company. Today O'Reilly is the second-largest retailer of auto parts in the U.S., but in the late 1950s it was a small but growing concern led by President Charles F. "Pop" O'Reilly (fifth from left below),  and his son, Vice President C.H. "Chub" O'Reilly (sixth from left).

The Creamery became home to the offices of a new auto-parts supply firm, O'Reilly Automotive, late in 1957.
The Creamery became home to the offices of a new auto-parts supply firm, O'Reilly Automotive, late in 1957.

By the 1980s and 1990s, the old building was easy to miss, tucked away down the hill behind Tri-States Laundry, which was located at the northwest corner of  Trafficway and today's Hammons Parkway. Owned and operated by Robert and Joyce Mahoney, the cleaning business was known for the replica of the St. Louis Gateway Arch on its main facade. The Mahoneys used one portion of the of the structure primarily as a warehouse to store bulk quantities of the cleaning agents sold by a separate company, Queen City Cleaning Supplies, to regional laundries and dry cleaners.

As the retail and entertainment energy in Springfield moved away from center city toward the suburbs after World War II, the building, like the rest of the city's aging core, was in danger of becoming a backwater—a plight that afflicted mid-sized cities across the nation in the last decades of the 20th century. The story of The Creamery is part of the larger story of how Springfield's leaders set out to bring new energy and life to the city’s downtown area. That task required vision—and that essential ingredient was supplied by a citywide effort to take charge of Springfield's growth, christened Vision 20/20.

A 1930 promotional mailer from the Creamery served as both a calendar and a ruler.
A 1930 promotional mailer from the Creamery served as both a calendar and a ruler.

 

Part Two: The Vision Takes Shape

Part Two: The Vision Takes Shape srac_drupadmin Sun, 02/12/2017 - 10:19

 

Former Springfield City Manager Tom Finnie.
Former Springfield City Manager Tom Finnie.

Vision 20/20, strongly backed by now-retired City Manager Tom Finnie, was a large-scale exercise in civic renewal, in which a number of volunteer citizens' committees, as well as City of Springfield agencies and employees, met to conceive and shape the evolution of the city. Launched in the mid-1990s, the project was designed to bring into focus the disparate visions of the city’s future, to create a roadmap for Springfield’s growth, and to offer suggestions for how these proposals could be funded and achieved. The Vision 20/20 process was led by the late City Planning Director Fred May and community activist Bill Compere, and it benefited from the efforts of more than 300 citizen volunteers.

Former SRAC President Carolyn Gerdes.
Former SRAC President Carolyn Gerdes.

Longtime civic leader and volunteer Carolyn Gerdes recalls that the origins of today’s Creamery can be traced to two Vision 20/20 committees, one charged with re-imagining the future of downtown Springfield, the other with offering suggestions for the evolution of the city’s parks. Gerdes, who was then president of the Springfield Regional Arts Council (SRAC), recalls that the Parks Committee was hatching a proposal to create a large new park. Civic Park, as it was informally called at the time, was envisioned as 300 acres of land devoted to new parks and open spaces.

A city banner promoted the Vision 20/20 project in the late 1990s.
A city banner promoted the Vision 20/20 project in the late 1990s.

The park, as originally proposed, would be located where the city was then growing the fastest, on its south side, to serve the widest number of citizens. But as Gerdes recalls, "When the folks on the Downtown Committee heard of the plans for Civic Park, we realized that placing a large new park in Springfield's downtown might create a magnet that would attract people to the city center—and that, in turn, could be a sparkplug for further development."

The notion of creating a dynamic new park space in the city’s declining core captured the imagination of Springfieldians, and by the late 1990s, the City of Springfield was actively exploring several potential downtown sites for the proposed Civic Park. Eventually, that search led to a large parcel of land running along the north side of Trafficway Street, just east of the city’s longtime commercial center, Park Central Square. The site was directly across Trafficway from Hammons Tower, the 22-story office building created by the late visionary of downtown Springfield’s renaissance, hotel magnate John Q. Hammons, who passed away in 2013.

Hotel developer John Q.Hammons.
Hotel developer John Q. Hammons.

The tall black tower was the crown jewel of Hammons' downtown developments, which dated to the 1980s and included the nearby University Plaza Hotel and Convention Center, as well as several office buildings and a large condominium development. The parcel was also directly across Sherman Ave. (now Hammons Parkway) from a large piece of land that was beginning to be seen as the potential home for a proposed baseball stadium that would bring AA minor-league ball to Springfield.

Several local businesses were operating along Trafficway on the land now increasingly envisioned as the future Civic Park, including Tri-States Laundry; a longtime auto dealership; and a company that crafted stretch limousines. If the Civic Park was to become a reality, these businesses would have to be moved, the land would have to be acquired, and environmental concerns based on the area’s past use would have to be tackled.

A 1997 Springfield News-Leader article showed the location of the proposed new downtown park, then called Civic Park.
A 1997 Springfield News-Leader article showed the location of the proposed new downtown park, then called Civic Park.

These challenges would soon be addressed by the central funding achievement of the Vision 20/20 project, the Hotel-Motel Tax of 1998. This proposal would place a tax on local tourist businesses and would direct the resulting funds to improving the city’s parks, museums and other attractions, creating enhancements that would draw more visitors to the city. Powered by the efforts of an energetic and enthusiastic cadre of civic leaders, the Hotel-Motel Tax was approved by Springfield voters on Feb. 4, 1998.

As former City Manager Finnie points out, the tax proposal was the only referendum in city history that received a positive vote in every precinct of Springfield—quite an achievement for an area where suspicion of civil authority dates back to the days of moonshiners and "revenuers." The new tax re-shaped the city in the years that followed: it funded the creation of Civic Park, which eventually was christened Jordan Valley Park, and it helped power the transformation of the old Creamery building into an arts center.

Part Three: A Future for the Creamery

Part Three: A Future for the Creamery srac_drupadmin Sun, 02/12/2017 - 11:20

The passage of the Hotel-Motel tax opened the door for the creation of Civic Park, but there were large obstacles still to be faced. The auto dealership eventually moved to the city’s south side, but only after a protracted and public dispute with the City of Springfield over compensation for its land. The limousine builder also relocated.

Tri-States Laundry owners Bob and Joyce Mahoney declared they were willing to sell their holdings at the corner of Trafficway and Hammons. But inspections revealed the land beneath the business posed environmental concerns that would have to be addressed—at a potentially high cost—before any development of the property could take place.

Former City of Springfield Attorney Howard Wright
Former City of Springfield Attorney Howard Wright

As Tom Finnie recalls: “This was a classic example of the hurdles facing the redevelopment of aging downtowns. As long as the Mahoneys, the current property owners, occupied the site and were introducing no new activity on it, no environmental remediation was required. But if the property changed hands, remediation was mandatory.” As a potential pollution hazard and an aging eyesore, the buildings might continue to hinder the redevelopment of a large portion of prime downtown real estate.

But Finnie was pleased by the final agreement reached by the City of Springfield’s capable attorney, Howard Wright, and the graciously amenable Mahoneys. Says Finnie: “It was a creative compromise in which the city promised that the land would be transformed into an expansive city park, allowing the city to minimize remediation requirements. We also agreed to share with the Mahoneys the payment for any remediation efforts that might arise. And we agreed that the site would be an open space, with no large buildings.”

A News-Leader photo shows the Tri-States Laundry undergoing demolition.
A News-Leader photo shows the Tri-States Laundry undergoing demolition.

Well, make that one large building. Shortly after the city acquired the property, Finnie recalls: “I received a call from Joyce Mahoney, who was a talented and undergoing demolition.enthusiastic amateur potter. Joyce told me that she had been using part of the Creamery building as a pottery studio, and she invited me to visit the building to see a workshop put on by a nationally noted potter, Rudy Autio. Joyce was hoping to save the building and convert it into a large, central studio where local potters could create and display their work.”

Finnie adds: “I have often confessed—this was the first time I was even aware that this aging building existed. I had assumed that the Mahoneys’ entire holdings on the property would be demolished to create room for the coming greenspace.”

When Finnie arrived at the building, he found that potter Rudy Autio “had been well briefed by Joyce Mahoney. He gave me a tee-shirt with his
Master potter Rudy Autio. picture on the front and he had signed the back with the message: 'We need you. Thanks, Rudy Autio 4/99.' By the end of Rudy’s demonstration, a tour of the building and a history lesson about it from Joyce, it was clear that she was right: the building should be saved, even though, during her tour, we surprised two homeless men who were taking shelter in the building! I always like to say, the transformation of The Creamery began with a simple tee-shirt.” (Potter Autio died in 2007.)

Master potter Rudy Autio.
Master potter Rudy Autio.

Even as City Manager Finnie bought into Joyce Mahoney’s notion of saving the old building, he began to entertain larger plans for its future. While in a previous post in city government in Charlotte, N.C., Finnie had seen an old downtown church that had been transformed into a lively home for the city’s Arts and Science Council, which housed many of the city’s not-for-profit organizations.

The Creamery building, Finnie began to think, might be used in a similar manner—but only if the funding for such a transformation could be raised from private resources rather than from city coffers. Springfield’s citizens had voted to create a park, not an arts center—and Finnie knew that the costs incurred when a local university had acquired and then demolished an aging downtown hotel a few years before had left many Springfieldians wary of civic redevelopment projects.

If the Creamery was to be developed into an arts center, a coalition of stakeholders would have to be assembled to help promote that vision and find the funds to achieve it. One such visionary, Finnie says, was Springfield Visual Arts Alliance (SVAA) president Carolyn Gerdes, who had served on Springfield’s City Council and was widely respected for her energy, judgment, common sense and broad connections across the city. (The SVAA evolved into today's Springfield Regional Arts Council.)

Gerdes had helped nurture the fledgling Ozark Greenways into a powerful force that was creating a network of green trails and recreational spaces across the city and county, and she had been an important participant in the Vision 20/20 group.

As Gerdes recalls, the SRAC at the time was an under-staffed and under-utilized group that was operating out of a small storefront in downtown Springfield. Gerdes, who had accompanied Finnie on Joyce Mahoney’s tour of the building and its pottery studio, agreed that the property could be renovated into a thriving arts center. She recalls believing that such a center would not only benefit the individual organizations, it would also open up avenues of communication and collaboration between the groups that could multiply the impact of the arts in Springfield—and create new opportunities for SRAC to spread its wings and expand its services.

A 1999 News-Leader article reported that the Springfield Visual Arts Alliance (today's Springfield Regional Arts Council) was seeking new headquarters.
A 1999 News-Leader article reported that the Springfield Visual Arts Alliance (today's Springfield Regional Arts Council) was seeking new headquarters.

 

Part Four: Finding the Funds

Part Four: Finding the Funds srac_drupadmin Sun, 02/12/2017 - 11:29
Civic arts advocate Randy Russell.
Civic arts advocate Randy Russell.

As Finnie, Gerdes and others began to share their vision for the Creamery’s future, they began to attract support from a wide variety of Springfieldians. One early backer of the idea was Randy Russell, a longtime art teacher in the Springfield Public Schools system. A member of the SRAC board of directors, Russell served 6 years as chairperson of Artsfest, the city's popular annual arts celebration, initially moving the event to Walnut Street.

Russ RuBert, a sculptor who created large-scale stainless steel works and had won a national reputation, was another early supporter of the plan. RuBert and wife Pam, an art quilter, were longtime advocates for the arts who helped the effort gain momentum.

Business leaders, arts enthusiasts and longtime civic visionaries Rob and Sally Baird were other early champions of The Creamery vision, and Tom Finnie declares that their efforts were so essential in the process that “their names ought to be on the building.”

Philanthropists Rob and Sally Baird were instrumental in finding the funding to convert the old Creamery building into a modern arts center. The sculpture behind them, composed of old mechanical parts salvaged in the building's renovation process, was created by local artists Jerry and Hing Wa Hatch.
Philanthropists Rob and Sally Baird were instrumental in finding the funding to convert the old Creamery building into a modern arts center. The sculpture behind them, composed of old mechanical parts salvaged in the building's renovation process, was created by local artists Jerry and Hing Wa Hatch.
Brian Fogle, banker and later president of the Community Foundation of the Ozarks.
Brian Fogle, banker and later president of the Community Foundation of the Ozarks.

Banker Brian Fogle, another veteran civic activist, brought his fiduciary expertise, wide connections and winning way with people to the table. Another key player soon emerged: the Community Foundation of the Ozarks (CFO), a philanthropic agency under the leadership of president Jan Horton and her successor Gary Funk, had already begun to direct its donations and energies toward community advancement, and the CFO would prove instrumental in leveraging the donations of the Bairds and others to secure historic-building tax credits from the State of Missouri that would fund the renovation of the Creamery.

Rob Baird remembers that he first heard about the old Creamery building from City Manager Finnie. "Tom called me up one day and said, 'I’ve got the keys to this old building. Why don’t you come on down and take a tour and see if we can dream up a use for it?'" Baird, who had seen aging buildings restored to dynamic life in cities around the country, quickly bought into the vision of turning the structure into an arts center.

“This entire period of the late 1990s saw a great flowering of civic ideas and energy in Springfield, drawing on the talents and visions of a host of people,” Baird recalls. Among those who helped foster the dream of a downtown renaissance for Springfield, he singles out Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce president Jim Anderson and Missouri State University officials Jim Baker and Dean of Fine Arts David Belcher.

Jim Anderson, former president of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce.
Jim Anderson, former president of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce.

As Baird recalls, both Anderson and Belcher began to sponsor visits to other cities in which Springfieldians toured downtowns and met with city leaders and arts supporters to learn from their experiences. Baird recalls being inspired by projects he saw in Boise, Idaho; Seattle and Vancouver; and Kansas City and St. Louis, all of which pointed a way forward for The Creamery.

Working closely together, Baird, Fogle, Funk, RuBert and others found a way to leverage funds donated by the Baird family to secure State of Missouri tax credits for historical renovation. RuBert, who had attended a pottery workshop with Joyce Mahoney well before the building was acquired by the city, remembers discussing the possibililties of converting the building into a hub for the arts with Mahoney. RuBert and wife Pam were instrumental in shaping the course of the SRAC in the years before the Arts Council moved to The Creamery.

As RuBert recalls: “We learned that the State Economic Development Department had made available some $3 million in tax credits the City could apply for as part of the effort to build what became Jordan Valley Park. It was considered a long shot that we would receive them, and it was a very competitive process. An important requirement for consideration was that the City partner with a non-profit organization that would then actually be awarded the benefit of the credits.

Longtime arts advocates Russ and Pam RuBert helped turn the Creamery vision into a reality.
Longtime arts advocates Russ and Pam RuBert helped turn the Creamery vision into a reality.

“I wrote the proposal to receive tax credits from the state in the summer of 2001,” RuBert recalled. “If you look back at the vision for The Creamery’s future contained in that letter, it’s amazing to see how close we came to delineating the future of the building years before it really took shape.”

Indeed it did. Here is the vision put forth in RuBert’s letter, condensed into bullet points:

  • It [the Creamery] should assume a community-based arts education role
  • It should serve as a visual arts exhibition center
  • It should offer rental space and flexible rehearsal space for cultural and arts organizations
  • It should be a fun and vibrant contributor to Jordan Valley Park
  • It should be an evolving cultural resource for the community

RuBert recalls the feeling of satisfaction he felt when he sent the letter to Finnie—dated Sept. 6, 2001. Five days later, terrorists attacked New York City and Washington. “People forget today how much the terrorist attacks paralyzed the nation,” says RuBert. “For some time, we feared we would not receive the tax credits.” But in time the credits were approved, and the plan took a giant step forward.

As former CFO president Funk recalls: “The Mahoneys provided the opportunity. Tom Finnie amplified the scope of that opportunity and seized it, bringing expertise and city resources to the project. Philanthropist Rob Baird had the passion and vision and capital to make the funding happen. The CFO provided social capital and the networking skills to win the support of the various arts groups.”

Part Five: If You Build It, They Will Come

Part Five: If You Build It, They Will Come srac_drupadmin Sun, 02/12/2017 - 11:39

The first two phases of The Creamery’s transformation—the creation of the vision and the securing of the funding—had been accomplished. But if the hodgepodge of buildings was going to be an arts center, Springfield’s performing arts groups would have to buy into the vision.

Enter Randy Russell, who played an important role in winning over Springfield’s diverse arts groups to the notion that by unifying their efforts under a single roof, they could achieve a savings in costs as well as a boost in creativity. As he recalls: “It was a very hard sell, especially at first. We were asking people to place their bets on a dream, and to move into an old industrial building that was not only dilapidated but essentially abandoned.”

At the time, several of the local performing arts groups, including the Springfield Ballet and the Springfield Regional Opera (now Springfield Lyric Theater) were facing serious funding challenges and were fighting simply to survive. The Springfield Symphony and Springfield Little Theatre, in contrast, were well established institutions that had worked hard to secure their success and financial independence over the years and were used to operating as individual entities. And as both Russell and Finnie pointed out, arts organizations compete strongly for essential monetary support from donors, a fact of life that breeds understandable caution about collaborating with other groups.

As Russell puts it: “Looking at the successful and energetic Creamery today, its role as an arts center seems an obvious use of the building, but the concept wasn’t an immediate sell. No one wanted to be dictated to or consolidated into a larger entity. We were asking independent organizations to come together to share information and share space. They were used to working without interference or cooperation with other arts groups. Now, we were urging them to work together.”

Russell found an early supporter in the Springfield Symphony’s popular conductor at the time, Australian-born Ron Spigelman. The organization was badly in need of new headquarters; its offices in a former private home in Smith Park were cramped and aging, and its instruments were stored in a variety of donated spaces around town. As Russell recalls: “Before rehearsals and performances, the symphony used to rent a truck to go around town and collect its instruments from a variety of storage rooms.” The Creamery building offered an opportunity to consolidate all the symphony’s operations in a single space where instruments could be stored in a climate-controlled environment.”

The building's north wall, prior to reconstruction.
The building's north wall, prior to reconstruction.

The Springfield Ballet, which earned most of its sustaining funds from offering ballet lessons to young students, was badly in need of new studios. The unique needs of the ballet, including sprung floors for its studios, could be addressed in the renovation of the old building, a point Russell stressed in winning over company leaders to the Creamery vision. And now the renovation was set to begin—an undertaking that would result in the creation of rehearsal spaces for the ballet that combined vintage decor with up-to-date flooring, lighting and other amenities.

The building required a major overhaul before it could become an arts center.
The building required a major overhaul before it could become an arts center.

 

Part Six: The Renaissance Begins

Part Six: The Renaissance Begins srac_drupadmin Sun, 02/12/2017 - 11:42
Former Springfield Public Works director Phil Broyles.
Former Springfield Public Works
director Phil Broyles.

"I worked for the Missouri Department of Transportation for 30 years," the late Phil Broyles of the City of Springfield Public Works Department recalled in 2013. Broyles' energy and know-how were essential to the process of turning the old Creamery building from a vision into a reality, says former City Manager Finnie. “I had been involved in rehabilitating a lot of buildings over that time," said Broyles. "I knew we could bring The Creamery up to current codes, but I admit: when I first looked at the building, it was a daunting prospect. There were squirrels in residence, transients occasionally slept there, and water was coming in through the roof and through the doors. But we have lots of good architects with lots of ideas in this town, and the people at Butler, Rosenbury & Partners, in particular Tim Rosenbury and Chris Swan, really sunk their teeth into the project.”

As state funds began to flow, the SRAC hired Butler, Rosenbury & Partners (BRP) to design the building’s renovation in 2003. Former SRAC Executive Director Kay Logsdon agrees with Broyles. “BRP was the right choice at the right time. Those people just gave and gave and gave—far beyond the fee they received for designing the renovations. Lead project architect Chris Swan was patient with the stake-holders’ lack of expertise, walked us through the project and helped us make good decisions for the long term, even if that meant more upfront money.”

The offices of the Springfield Symphony in 2015.
The offices of the Springfield Symphony in 2015.

“The first work wasn’t sexy or showy,” recalls Tim Rosenbury, one of the firm’s two principals, “rather, it was necessary.” The building was in need of a new roof, new tucking and pointing of its old brick exteriors and interiors, new electrical wiring, and new heating, air conditioning and ventilation, all before any interior renovations could be undertaken.

An updated ballet rehearsal studio, with a new floor, in 2015.
An updated ballet rehearsal studio, with a new floor, in 2015.

As the shell improved, says Rosenbury, the ways in which the building could be used came into focus. The next updates involved finishing the first interior spaces–such as the building entries, the ballet studios, the board room, the office spaces for various tenants and the SRAC–while the rest of the building remained unused. “Everything else was kind of the Outback,” Rosenbury says. “At the beginning, as we were developing this project and the master plan, it really became clear what the building was best used for and that was education, administration and support.”

The entrance to the updated Creamery holds a metal sculpture of found objects collected from the renovation project, dedicated to contributors Rob and Sally Baird.
The entrance to the updated Creamery holds a metal sculpture of found objects collected from the renovation project, dedicated to contributors Rob and Sally Baird.

A finished performing space, once discussed as a possibility, was ruled out, but space for art exhibits would be a strong feature of the new building. And despite the building's lack of a formal performing space, the main gallery of the Creamery has been used for a variety of live performances with resounding success.

The Creamery we know today is a collection of about six or seven different buildings, Rosenbury notes. In this conglomeration of spaces, built at different times to serve different needs, there were no less than 12 different floor levels, which were eventually reduced to about four. “That was one of the biggest challenges,” Rosenbury recalls “simply making the building a unified, accessible space.”

The building may have been in serious disrepair, but even so, Rob Baird notes, it offered amenities uniquely suited to arts groups, including the loading docks and interior ramps at the north end of the building, which are now used to help load costumes and scenery for the Little Theatre. These existing accommodations saved tens of thousands of dollars that otherwise might have been spent to create them.

A former warehouse area was adapted to become the building's central gallery for the visual arts, as well as a performance space.
A former warehouse area was adapted to become the building's central gallery for the visual arts, as well as a performance space.

Baird also appreciates that Butler/Rosenbury retained the simplicity and well-worn flavor of the building, preserving its historical patina and sense of utility rather than obscuring its past behind modern trappings. “You could kick over a can of varnish in those big, raw spaces, and there was no need to worry about it—accidents like that only added to the character of the building,” Baird declared.

One of the building's lower floors during the first phase of the renovation project.
One of the building's lower floors during the first phase of the renovation project.

In the same spirit, the architects called out the infrastructure of the building, painting ventilation ducts a bright red. And several painted business signs that had once been on the outside walls of the building but had gradually become interior signs as the building assumed its chockablock shape over the decades, were carefully cleaned and retained, signposts of the past as the building assumed its new future.

Artifacts from the past, like this sign, were left in place to honor the building's heritage.
Artifacts from the past, like this sign, were left in place to honor the building's heritage.

The grounds around the building were also converted to accommodate creative pursuits. Thanks to a generous donation from the  Rotary Club of Springfield (Downtown), an intimate outdoor classroom, which could be used as a performance space, was added at the western end of the building. It has proved to be a highly popular venue for the arts workshops and summer programs organized by the Arts Council.

The first phase of renovations was completed in mid-2002, when the SRAC officially moved its offices into the building. As a large article in the Springfield News-Leader declared: “Most recently home to mice, lizards, spiders and the occasional drifter, a city-owned former creamery in Jordan Valley Park has new, more permanent tenants. Last month, the city leased space in the vacant historic building to the Springfield Regional Arts Council.”

Arts Council Executive Director Leslie Forrester works in the SRAC offices, which were updated in 2015.
Arts Council Executive Director Leslie Forrester works in the SRAC offices, which were updated in 2015.

Longtime local arts supporter William Brandon Bowman was another pioneering tenant, moving the Arts Patronage Initiative, a Baird Family philanthropy project, into one of the building’s offices.

With life and activity restored to the building, an increasing number of Springfieldians began to visit and use it. “All of a sudden, people started getting the idea: ‘Oh, wow, we can all collaborate around a shared space,’ ” BRP architect Chris Swan says. The energy was contagious, and beginning in 2006 and spilling into 2007, the second phase of The Creamery renovation took place. This included creating a costume storage and a scenery shop on the lower level for the Springfield Little Theatre.

The possibilities offered by the new building came into sharp focus when the Little Theatre responded to a challenge from Springfield entrepreneur Jack Stack, author of the influential book The Great Game of Business, who urged local non-profit groups to think more entrepreneurially. With new room to experiment, the theatrical group launched a program in which it offered to rent costumes, and then scenery, to other regional theater groups.

The impact was both immediate and profound. Long a center of expenses for the company, the backstage units underwent a 180-degree transformation, and today the group’s rental business offers the company a steady revenue stream for its coffers—a testament to the opportunities The Creamery presents to its tenants.

Maxine Whitaker, foreground, and other members of the Springfield Little Theatre's costume department create costumes for the 2015 production of The Wizard of Oz.
Maxine Whitaker, foreground, and other members of the Springfield Little Theatre's costume department create costumes for the 2015 production of The Wizard of Oz.

 

Part Seven: Still a Work in Progress

Part Seven: Still a Work in Progress srac_drupadmin Sun, 02/12/2017 - 11:51

As of 2013, The Creamery is the vibrant center of the Springfield arts scene. Integrated into the landscape of Jordan Valley Park, it is well positioned at the heart of the city. Just up the hill is a children’s playground, funded by a generous donation from the Springfield Rotary Club (Southeast), that features climbing sculptures, a replica of a 19th Century Springfield wagon, and Russ RuBert’s wildly popular, hands-on sculpture, the 25-ft.-tall K-Man (for Kinetic Man). Across the street is Hammons Stadium, home of the St. Louis Cardinals AA minor-leagure team, the Springfield Cardinals. One block away is the Springfield Expo Center and the Mediacom Ice Park; two blocks away is the Discovery Center, the city’s science museum for children.

The Creamery helped transform Springfield—and the city’s arts scene. The effort required to envision, acquire, fund and transform the old building into its new incarnation also had an invigorating effect on the SRAC, as well as on the individual arts groups that use the building. Today the SRAC is a larger, more dynamic and more effective leader of the City’s arts efforts, while the ballet, theater and symphony companies that share the building are also growing and prospering.

The Thomas W. Finnie board room is an up-to-date meeting space as of 2015, with wooden beams rescued from the building's past supporting the ceiling.
The Thomas W. Finnie board room is an up-to-date meeting space as of 2015, with wooden beams rescued from the building's past supporting the ceiling.

Indeed, The Creamery has become so successful that a round of renovations in 2013-14 was ordered up, courtesy of funds authorized by the Springfield City Council, to address some ongoing infrastructure problems and remove outmoded ramps to facilitate accessibility. More major renovations are in store, as a new entry area will be built on the east side of the building, to facilitate the flow into and out of the building.

As former SRAC Executive Director Leah Hamilton put it: “This building is what the arts in Springfield needed to grow.” The Creamery, it appears, is a living, breathing entity that will continue to change and expand in tandem with the City of Springfield—a Cinderella whose transformation will never quite be complete.