Sanctuary Success!

The year 2008 has already been a momentous one for the Calvary Center for Culture and Community and the Curio Theatre Company. The long-sought goal to have the beautiful main auditorium open to the public was finally met in February when Curio Theatre performed the Odyssey in that space, the first real use of that space in thirty-five years!! That play was ranked the third best play of the entire 2007-2008 Philadelphia theater season by theater critic R.B. Strauss of the Philadelphia Weekly Press!

Although renovations and restorations had only just begun and temporary lighting had to be set up, audiences were able to watch two productions of Curio’s 2007/2008 season (The Odyssey & What the Butler Saw) fully staged in the Sanctuary. Curio and Calvary now can boast that they have a 30’ X 30’ stage with ample offstage space, 80 lighting instruments and a new lighting control system.

The transformation of the Sanctuary from crumbling store room to theater space did not happen by magic. None of it was possible without exceptional planning (especially by Paul Kuhn) and the enormous help of over forty volunteers working tirelessly over a three month span. These volunteers helped clear the Sanctuary of three decades worth of debris which was generously hauled away by the University City District.

Volunteers also carried in three tractor trailer loads of new materials, resituated over twenty pews, and helped to build our enormous stage. Though Curio Theatre invested close to $30,000 for the effort, the total cost of rehabilitating the space would well have exceeded $100,000 but for the generous donation of highly skilled (and free!) volunteer labor.

The Calvary Center for Culture and Community invested time and money into the project as well. Over $14,000 was invested to insulate the enormous attic and increase energy efficiency and soundproofing in the wall between the Chapel and the Sanctuary. Over $11,000 was invested to upgrade the electrical system and lighting. Many members of the CCCC board also volunteered their time with the renovation project work.

Though it wasn’t deemed necessary by the structural engineer, Curio wanted to give the public the added sense of security by putting a safety net over the audience. Most, if not all, of the plaster damage in the Sanctuary occurred from a leaking roof that was fixed when CCCC put a new roof on the building that stopped further deterioration of the ceiling. But anyone who saw the sanctuary pews covered in plaster dust might feel a bit worried sitting on a pew for long. The new safety net is capable of catching up to three tons of debris.

A local architect and Board member, John Holland, was instrumental in getting the building to its current state of restoration. John put in countless amounts of time and energy bringing in consultants, coordinating construction projects, generating drawings and much more.

After many years of helping CCCC, John recently accepted a job in Dubai. John and his family will be missed in the community.

We are very fortunate, however, to have another local architect, Richard Olaya, join us. Richard will be working with us to help make Calvary ADA compliant and to help Curio and Calvary realize the future work needed to make the old sanctuary space into a premier venue for the performing arts. In the few weeks that Richard has offered his assistance he has already shown an amazing vision and understanding about the complexity of issues involved with transforming a 100 year old church space for use by performing arts in the 21st century.

A committee has been planning and brainstorming for several months to devise a plan to create a state-of-the-art space for the performing arts while respecting the art and architectural grandeur of the magnificent space which will house it. Acoustical curtains are being installed and testing is ongoing to produce total sound isolation between the chapel and sanctuary space, so that both spaces can be used simultaneously. This will nearly double the capacity for performing arts at Calvary Center. Interest has been expressed in bringing a short classical music series here, and we want to add the capability to show films, and extend the venue for city-wide festivals such as Philadelphia Fringe Festival and others.

The main auditorium (the newly opened Sanctuary) will be used for theater, concerts, film and more, with Curio’s performances the star attraction. Crossroads concerts and other smaller performances will continue to use the acoustically terrific smaller Chapel.

Richard Kirk, president of the CCCC board states, “We are finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel in bringing about vital changes at the corner of 48th and Baltimore.”

Thanks to the exceptional vision, the enormous community support, the countless hours from volunteers and from many organizations, the CCCC board, and the Calvary Trustees, and generous grants from many foundations, Calvary Center has become a vital locus for our larger community, something truly unique, fully functional as a sacred space, a community center, and a venue for the performing arts. And Baltimore Avenue is growing and beautifying all around us!

There is little time to rest on what we have done so far. There is still much to do to fully restore and renovate our wonderful space. After the main sanctuary auditorium is completely restored and the building becomes ADA accessible, CCCC will pursue greening efforts using solar energy and geothermal heating and cooling. All this in a building considered lost and beyond hope just a few short years ago!

Tax-deductible donations to support the building and activities of Calvary Center, are always welcomed and encouraged. Make your contribution here.

Fall 2007 Newsletter!

After exterior construction was complete in the fall of 2006, Calvary’s 48th Street gardens were nothing but mud and tank tracks from the big lifts.

But just look at the gardens now!

Many thanks to Michael Williams, the 48th Street neighbors, and University City Green, Calvary’s garden blooms again!

In fact, Calvary’s gardens were so pretty this summer that people were actually taking pictures!

Download or view the Fall 2007 edition of CCCC’s newsletter. Click here.

Centennial Gala a Huge Success!

The Calvary Centennial Gala was held September 16, 2006. It was a fundraiser, and a very successful one at that, but it also was, by all accounts, an evening which will long and fondly be remembered by the well over 200 who attended the affair.

The evening offered something, or several somethings, to please every palate. It was duly noted that no one had ever seen the community so dressed up for a party! For the serious minded, there was the announcement of the occasion itself, the beautiful centennial commemorative guide book souvenir, and the superlative opera recital by the neighborhood’s own incomparable Cecelia Chaisson, which took the audience in the dome-lit chapel by storm. But beyond the solemn side of the occasion, the gala was a party extraordinaire! Delicious gourmet food from many local restaurants delighted the senses of taste and smell, and a lively silent auction with some of the most exciting items auctioned off live created full-blown cacophony in the downstairs gym transformed by decoration into an elegant, romantic setting, and for those who needed a quieter venue, the outdoor scene was one of intimate conversations and laughter on the lawn, served up with amazing coctails and spirits at the bar (and off the premises!) To cap off the affair, the resident Curio Theatre’s improv comedy sent them home laughing!

It was a celebration for a magnificent building once thought lost but now being saved. But more than that, it was a celebration for a uniquely University City redevelopment experiment that has given new life to the building, not just as an ecumenical sacred space, but as a functioning community center and venue for culture and the arts as well, all under one vast roof. It was, truly, a celebration of the community, by the community and for the community, at its best.

Masonry Repairs 2006!

The Calvary building underwent major masonry replacements this summer. From the top of the tower to the basement level, about half of the stone pointing is being replaced all over the building. This is the first masonry overhaul the building has had in its hundred year history. Cost is $178,000. The work is being done by Premier Building Restoration, Inc., who also reconstructed the gables in 2005. Premier started the work in April and finished in September. This major exterior repair was made possible by a $100,000 grant from Keystone and Partners for Sacred Places, and a $50,000 anonymous donation, and other grants, particularly by Claniel Foundation, and other individual donations.

Volunteers Spruce Up CCCC!

Volunteers from the Mid-Atlantic Student Movement painted the standing display board on 48th Street in the red, black and gold color scheme used on the new outdoor signage and then went on to apply the same colors to the main entrance at the corner of 48th and Baltimore. This group performed a similar community service project last year helping to restore some historic porches on S. 45th Street and asked the University City Historical Society to locate another such local worksite. Calvary was one of two West Philadelphia locations served by the group in 2005.

Pictured at work renewing the Calvary doors are Lutheran students from Towson University, Baltimore; Muhlenberg College, Allentown; Centenary College, Hackettstown; Kutztown University, Kutztown; the Lutheran Theological Seminary, Mt. Airy; and Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania, University City.

Calvary thanks them, UCHS and the University City District for making the arrangements for this “Gift to the Streets” from the Calvary Center and hopes they will be coming back next year for another service day in the neighborhood.

Lighting the Avenue!

Thanks to grants from Citizen’s Bank and the University City District, CCCC is implementing special lighting for the incomparable Tiffany windows. These lights will illuminate the windows from the interior at night, literally putting artistic masterpieces on the nighttime streetscape at Baltimore Avenue and 48th Street.

Through the same funding, CCCC is puchasing three street lights which complement the vintage architecture. One light will be placed at the corner of 48th and Baltimore, and the other two lights will be placed one length down each street, lighting the sidewalks, the new garden, the signage below, and the tower above. This will create an exquisite and welcoming beauty mark for Baltimore Avenue and the surrounding community.

But we still need your help!

CCCC estimates the electricity will cost $200 a month. We just need to raise the money to pay for two years of electricity before the lights become a reality. That’s less than $5,000.

Help CCCC keep the lights shining at our Community Beacon. Support CCCC today!

Gables Restored – Thanks to You!

Over the years, a number of professional architectural and engineering studies were done in order to assess the deteriorated condition of the Calvary UMC Church Building and to make recommendations for its restoration. Reconstruction of the Tiffany window gables was identified as the most significant structural problem.

A potential hazard to pedestrians, the gables’ displacement could also have caused irreparable harm to the Church Building and the two magnificent Tiffany window ensembles in the main sanctuary below. Several methodswere considered for correcting the problem, but after much consultation with other experts, the engineering consultant, John Holland of Holland Architects Ltd, concluded that the only way to secure the gables was to completely dismantle them, stone-by-stone, build a reinforcement, and then reconstruct the gable stone walls.

Almost without a hitch, both the Baltimore Avenue and 48th Street gables were reconstucted, in under a year’s time, at a cost of $407,000.

The importance of the success of this project cannot be stressed enough. Completing the gables repair has made it possible to begin restoration of the sanctuary space, and has also allowed CCCC and its partners to continue to grow and support programs and events, all to the benefit of our community.

The Trustees of Calvary United Methodist Church and the Board of the Calvary Center for Culture and Community wish to express sincere gratitude and thank all organizations and community members who contributed the financial support, without which this milestone progress could not have been made. Those patrons include:

Government State Grant from State Rep. James Roebuck
PA Historical & Museum Commission
William Penn Foundation
Preservation Pennsylvania
Trustees of Calvary United Methodist Church
University City Historical Society
Coleman Trust
Greater Philadelphia Preservation Alliance
Helen Groome Beatty Trust
Claneil Foundation
Dolfinger McMahon Foundation
Dreihaus Foundation
UC Pride
Community Individual Contributions
Members of Calvary UMC
CCCC Board Members