Arts Center of Oak Park

From HistoryWiki

Arts Center of Oak Park Soundex Code A632

On Monday, June 1, 1914 Ground was broken for the new 1st Church of Christ, Scientist of Oak Park. The architect was Leon E. Stanhope. The building was built in the Grecian style usually adapted by the Christian Science churches. However, there was more balustrade ornamentation than normally used to make it more suitable for a suburban location.

The church was to accommodate 1,000 people in the auditorium and 500 children in the Sunday School. Auditorium-type individual seating was used instead of pews. The decoration was, and still is, subtle cream and ivory colors and features translucent gridded windows of pastel-tinted colors. The floors and doors are of walnut finish.

A most pleasing feature in the auditorium is the lighting, which is wholly lit by invisible fixtures back of the cornices. The light is thrown upward and diffused throughout. Another special feature of the auditorium is the 3 manual, 40 rank Kimball organ. The pipes are in chambers behind a beautiful ornamental plaster grille.

The entrance to the building is through 3 wide doorways flanked by massive Doric pillars. The lobby is lit by 3 large ornamental hand-built torchieres. The church opened its doors for services on Sunday, April 30, 1916.

By the 1980’s the congregation had drastically dwindled in numbers and the building had become cumbersome for the congregation to maintain. The membership agreed to put the building up for sale through a local realtor. There were a few interested buyers from another church, an arts group, and the village. The sale became quite controversial and the village stepped aside. The congregation decided to take sealed bids and interview the interested buyers. A River Forest woman, Chatka Ruggiero, was the successful purchaser in 1988 with her promise to preserve the beauty and architecture of the building and its contents. It was re-named the Arts Center of Oak Park.

In 1991 the former Sunday School area on the 1st floor became the Ernest Hemingway Museum. It explores the first 20 years of Hemingway’s life, highlighting his family relationships, education, love of the outdoors, military experiences, and early writings. Kiosks fashioned from historic doors hold exhibits of rare photos and artifacts. Video presentations shed light on his high school years and later life, and a museum bookstore features books by and about the author and memorabilia.

The auditorium of the Arts Center is now named for Lora Aborn, composer and musician, and the owner’s mother. It is used by various groups for lectures, piano and organ recitals, operas, and seminars.

Memorable performances have been given by the Duke Ellington Orchestra, Kurt Elling, the Windy City Gay Chorus, Oak Park Concert Chorale, Chamber Opera Chicago, the American Opera Group], Flemenco Ballet, Dianne Schuur, WTTW "Chicago Tonight", Louis Bellson, Chris Williamson, and many others.