Beck Center raises the roof on renovations to 100-year-old Lakewood campus

The Beck Center for the Arts has a long history of enriching the Northeast Ohio community through performing arts, arts education, visual art, and therapy programs.

But the 87-year-old Lakewood institution at 17801 Detroit Ave. needs a bit of a facelift to its 3.5-acre campus to keep serving the 60,000 people who rely on the Beck Center annually for entertainment and services.

On Tuesday, March 10, Beck officials will kick off the public portion of its $5.7 million “Creating our Future” capital campaign to update two buildings—one of which is more than 100 years old—and raze a third building to bring the complex into the 21st century.

The Lakewood Little Theatre in 1939, on the corner of Detroit and Wayne avenues in Lakewood, part of the Beck Center today. Previously it was the Lucier Theatre, from 1926 to 1930.“There’s a huge need to create accessibility, and there’s a huge need to create energy efficiency,” says Cindy Einhouse, the Beck Center’s president and CEO. “Many of our spaces had different original purposes, and the level of teaching is so high, we want to make sure the experience is at the same level.”

The campaign began its quiet phase more than three years ago, says Einhouse, and has in that time raised $3.5 million from Northeast Ohio individuals, corporations, and foundations, but now officials are asking for the public to help raise the remaining money needed for the renovations.

“You go to the people who know you best to get it going,” Einhouse says. “And now it’s time for the public phase,” which will kick off March 10 with the Raise the Roof event in the main gallery. The rally will include a reception, short presentation, and renderings of the project.

The renovations and updates, designed by Bialosky Cleveland, will turn the Beck Center campus into a state-of-the-art facility, equipped to serve everyone who comes through the center for arts entertainment and education. Turner Construction will oversee the construction.

The campus consists of three buildings with 77,500 square feet of programmable space—some of which includes the original 1915 building that housed the Lucier Movie Theater that existed until the beginning of the Great Depression. The Lakewood Little Theater took the building over in 1929 before it became the Beck Center for the Arts in 1972 after the last capital campaign.

Beck Center for the Arts rendered site plan.

Businessman Kenneth C. Beck earned naming rights to the center when he matched the $600,000 raised to break ground on the theater expansion in 1975 (the previous largest fundraiser was held at the height of the Depression, when Lakewood Little Theatre patrons raised $10,000 for a proscenium opening to the new stage—pretty impressive, says Einhouse).

With a combination of 1915 and 1975 buildings, a lot of the renovations center around creating greater accessibility throughout the campus, says Einhouse, beginning with the 1970s front entrance to the main building.

“The entrance is too narrow, and the vestibule isn’t big enough for someone in a wheelchair to come in the front door,” Einhouse says of the current entrance, noting that wheelchair users must enter the theater through the rear entrance.

Part of the renovations includes installing ramps and accessible doorways throughout the Beck Center.

Replacing the front entrance, as well as replacing a 1970s inefficient translucent skylight that leaks, are two of the tactics the renovation is taking to save energy. The Beck Center recently replaced its theatrical lighting with energy-efficient LED lighting, thanks to a grant from the Gund Foundation.

Einhouse says the plans also call for tearing down the Creative Arts building to save money. “We are in the process of getting approval to tear down the building and make it into a pocket park,” she says. “It will save a lot of money in the future because it costs more to maintain three buildings instead of two.”

Beck Center clients in the art therapies program.Programs now held in that building—dance and creative arts therapies—will transfer to the other two buildings. Visual Arts and Theater Education classrooms will also be updated. The Armory, or the back building, will be converted to a music and creative arts therapies center and improve the existing performance space.

In the 1915 section, which comprises the classrooms, there are steps down into every room, making them inaccessible to many patrons. Since the Beck Center is known for providing arts education for all ages and abilities, including sensory-friendly music programming, Einhouse says these changes are especially important to the center.

Plans call for literally raising the roof on the second floor of the main building to elevate the current eight-foot ceilings to 16 feet high—allowing the dancers to leap to new heights in two new state-of-the-art dance studios. Four dance studios on the first floor make up a combined 4,100 square feet.

In addition to raising the funds for the renovations, Einhouse says money will also be earmarked to create a “Fund for Innovative Programming of the Future” to allow the Beck Center to keep up with technology in the arts.

“We don’t even know what that is, because arts education and technology evolve so quickly,” she says. “There will be future innovation we want to be prepared for, take advantage of, and offer it to the public.”

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.