Kehrein Center for the Arts a Cornerstone of the Austin Community

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Kehrein
Courtesy of sheila miguez (Flickr CC0)

Kehrein Center for the Arts (KCA) is located at 5628 West Washington Boulevard in the Austin community of Chicago, Illinois. It was constructed in 1954 by the architectural firm Belli & Belli who designed many buildings for the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Originally Kehrein Center for the Arts housed an all-girls secondary school St. Catherine of Siena High School. Belli &Belli evoked the neo-futuristic vision of Eero Saarinen who is best known for designing St. Louis’s Gateway Arch.

For years after opening its doors the center bared witness to numerous musical theater productions, school graduations, choral and orchestra productions. It also contributed to the community’s cultural landscape.

The auditorium fell into disrepair when St. Catherine of Siena High School moved out of Austin in 1971. Afterwhich the 1,000 seats were removed, leaving an empty, hollow space. That being said, the Kehrein Center for the Arts is one of the best surviving examples of mid-century modern architecture in the city.

Kehrein
Courtesy of Pete Considine (Flickr CC0)

For years the building and auditorium remained unused by anyone. The Catalyst Circle Rock, a new nonprofit charter school system moved into the empty building in 2008. They were able to purchase the Kehrein Center in 2018.

The Catalyst had sufficient funds to renovate the classroom wing of the building but not the auditorium. They knew the space held the vast potential to bring major change to the school and surrounding Austin community, so they assembled a volunteer committee of community leaders to begin renovation planning for the historic community auditorium.

The committee worked hard as they preserved and saved up enough funds to renovate the space. In the spring of 2018, the much-needed repairs were finally able to happen.

Steve Saunders of Eckenhoff Saunders Architects collaborated with McGuire Engineers and Sound Structures to complete the project. Gwen Grossman Lighting Design LLC and Threshold Acoustics respectively developed the lighting and audio plan. Construction was done by Wight Company.

The Austin community has supported the $5 million project from the very beginning. KCA gained support from the whole state when Illinois State Rep. La Shawn Ford organized to help out the cornerstone of the Austin neighborhood.

Ford received help from Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford, Rep. Camille Lilly, Sen. Harmon to renew KCA to its former glory.  Their efforts gained major financial support from the State of Illinois. Ald. Emma Mitts, Ald. Chris Taliaferro and former Mayor Rahm Emanuel played key leadership roles in the construction project. Together they secured $1 million from Chicago’s Neighborhood Opportunity Fund.

The Kehrein Center of the Arts officially opened its doors in May 2019.

They were selected as a Neighborhood Access Program grant recipient on Nov. 16, 2021. They used the funding to “support the cultural vitality of the Austin neighborhood and @catalystschools through a series of public events and programming,” according to their Twitter page.

Written by Sheena Robertson

Sources:

Kehrein Center: About
Open House Chicago: KEHREIN CENTER FOR THE ARTS

Top and Featured Image Courtesy of sheila miguez’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image Courtesy of Pete Considine’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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