Arts & Culture

From historic CSPS Hall, a cultural hub was born

Legion Arts carves niche for performing and visual artists

Legion Arts’ renovation of CSPS Hall after the 2008 food includes improved performance and gallery facilities as well as retail spaces. Photo from May 4, 2013. (The Gazette)
Legion Arts’ renovation of CSPS Hall after the 2008 food includes improved performance and gallery facilities as well as retail spaces. Photo from May 4, 2013. (The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — CSPS Hall began life as a cultural hub for the city’s Czech and Slovak community. More than 125 years later, it has become a cultural hub for the world.

The three-story building at 1103 Third St. SE opened in 1891 and has been home to Legion Arts since 1991.

F. John Herbert, a writer from Toledo, Ohio, and Mel Andringa, a performance artist, visual artist and art educator from Holland, Mich., met in New York more than 40 years ago. They formed the Drawing Legion performance art company and made their way to the University of Iowa, where Andringa taught in the art department and Herbert finished a doctorate in American studies.

When the downtown Iowa City building housing their studios was converted to office space, another displaced artist urged them to check out the former home of the social and cultural hall for the Czech-Slovak Prudential Society (Cesko-Slovensky Podporujici Spolek).

Legion Arts has carved out a niche as presenters of performing and visual artists on the local, national and international scene.

Among the biggest names the nonprofit organization has brought to area stages are Joan Baez, Ani DiFranco, Richie Havens, Janis Ian, Duncan Sheik, Melanie, Michelle Shocked, Kyle Eastwood, Paula Cole, actors Ronny Cox and Jeff Daniels, who front their own bands, as well as artwork by Yoko Ono, Tuvan throat singers, a Czech bluegrass band, a punk-rock gypsy band, Irish jig bands and performance artists who express themselves through music, theater and dance.

Then in June 2008, 12 feet of raging waters from the Cedar River tore through the hall’s lower levels, but didn’t reach the second floor where most of the art exhibits and concerts were held. The fetid waters also forced Andringa and Herbert from their home in the former Osada apartments up the street, and ruined decades of artwork in Andringa’s studio in the historic firehouse next door to CSPS.

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They rolled up their sleeves, donned their boots and reopened the second-floor auditorium Sept. 26, 2008.

Legion Arts bought the building in June 2010 for $500,000 and closed the doors shortly thereafter to begin a $7 million renovation that pays homage to its history. The firehouse was purchased for $50,000.

CSPS Hall reopened with a gala celebration Aug. 26, 2011. Renovations and improvements featured exterior restoration, a new roof, a new parking lot, a new entrance tower and elevator, new restrooms and for the first time, air-conditioning, new and improved art and video exhibition space on the first and second floors, a first-floor studio theater, box office, three new ground-floor retail spaces, and upgrades to the second-floor auditorium where seating capacity increased from 150 to 200.

Renovation funding included a $4.8 million I-JOBS grant; a $225,000 challenge grant from the Hall-Perrine Foundation; $1.2 million in state historic preservation tax credits; $1.3 million in federal historic preservations tax credits for operations and an endowment; $150,000 from the city of Cedar Rapids, and corporate, foundation and private grants ranging from $10,000 to $100,000.

Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

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