PEORIA – The Scottish Rite Cathedral is almost ready for its second act.
KDB Group, which purchased the historic Peoria building in 2019, is putting the finishing touches on its extensive $ 5 million restoration of the city’s newest performing arts venue.
Many local performing groups have expressed interest in using the historic building, said Jenny Parkhurst, director of performing arts for KDB Group, which hopes to attract everything from traveling tours to local community fundraising events and at weddings in the place.
“Our grand opening will be announced in the near future, and we’ll have a kind of community welcome in the building,” Parkhurst said. “We’ll be inviting the public to come on a tour, and at that time we’ll be announcing our lineup for the year.”
Built in 1924 and consecrated in 1925, the Scottish Rite Cathedral is a massive brick structure with towering stained glass windows, oak beams and doors, and elegant architecture. In addition to a theater that can seat 800 people, the building also has a ballroom that can seat 250 people and many smaller venues perfect for a variety of events.
Masons loved the structure, but over the years their numbers decreased and in 2019 they put it on the market. KDB Group, a real estate development company founded by entrepreneur and medical technology philanthropist Kim Blickenstaff, purchased the building with the intention of restoring it for community use.
“We have done everything we can to increase the level of enjoyment for our customers,” said Parkhurst, who pointed out many new safety features such as taller railings on balconies, lights on the stairs and a wheelchair lift to help disabled customers get into the theater.
Air conditioning is another important novelty.
“There was no air conditioning. We spent incredible time and energy working on the logistics of this while maintaining the integrity and history of the building, ”said Parkhurst.
The piping was hidden under the seats on several levels and through the passageways, and when it could not be hidden, clever ways were found to conceal it.
While guest comfort was a priority, a lot of effort was also put into meeting the needs of the performers and crew. The lighting and rigging are all new and state of the art. A new Steinway grand piano was recently installed in the building, where he lives in a special air-conditioned room when not in use. And to make it easier to move the sets around the building, a large door was dug into the wall behind the stage to allow the use of a forklift. The new configuration replaces a small door and pulley system that had served the building for many years.
The $ 1.6 million stage renovations included rehabilitating the hardwood floor, a job outsourced to Kelch Floors, a local family business.
“One of the younger Kelch boys came up to me as they were working on the floors and said, ‘Thank you so much for awarding us this position. I am so honored to be working on this floor, my great-great- dad actually posed this floor, “Parkhurst said.” There’s just this incredible amount of passionate history that comes when people walk through the door and have so many memories of the past. ”
A Peoria Christmas tradition will also return this year when the cathedral hosts five performances of “A Christmas Carol” in December.
Animated by masons since the 1940s, annual production ceased in the early 2000s.
“I think they couldn’t afford the production costs anymore,” Parkhurst said. “We’re bringing him back, and a lot of the Masonic community, and I think the general public will be really happy.
Parkhurst, a longtime leader of the Peoria arts community, also has some old memorabilia created in the Scottish Rite Cathedral.
“I did a Christmas production here, and I distinctly remember holding a conical candle with a real flame outside the auditorium,” she said. “I was very, very young, it was actually my first performance. I was probably about 5 years old.
Parkhurst credits Blickenstaff with the vision of bringing the Scottish Rite Cathedral back to life, so that it can continue to be a place for the rich performance culture that has long existed in Peoria.
“I have tremendous loyalty to the KDB group and Kim, and at the same time I feel very responsible for continuing the artistic tradition for the community.
Leslie Renken can be contacted at 270-8503 or [email protected] Follow her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.