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.

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