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Calvin Given Historic Property
October 26 , 2006

Calvin College is adding another piece to its presence in downtown Grand Rapids.

The Ladies Literary Club voted yesterday to give its historic property at 61 Sheldon Boulevard to Calvin and that property will join the college's new 106 South Division art gallery and studio space among downtown Calvin holdings. Interestingly, Calvin was founded in 1876 on Spring Street, a location just blocks from the LLC building and the art gallery.

61 Sheldon SEThe college plans to invest approximately $1 million in improvements into 61 Sheldon and maintain it as a resource for the West Michigan community.

"The remaining members of the Ladies Literary Club were looking for a group to carry on their tradition of lectures, music and theater and, at the same time, to preserve the classic building which has been the Club's home for over a century," says Calvin president Gaylen Byker. "We are thrilled that they chose Calvin to be that group. "We are excited about the chance to be of service to the community and about expanding our downtown presence, and we are eager to explore the many possibilities for the space."

Among the significant improvements Calvin must make to the building are better handicap accessibility and enhancement of the lighting and sound systems. It also will improve the heating and air handling system. To make this work possible, Calvin is seeking the support of individuals and foundations that are committed to and invested in downtown renewal. Commitments already have been received from the Frey, Meijer, Steelcase and Sebastian foundations.

Says Byker: "The outcome will be a literary and cultural heritage continued as well as a classic building preserved and equipped for 21st century service to the community."

Over the years the LLC has hosted distinguished statesmen, including U.S. presidents Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Woodrow Wilson, as well as Mary Garden, director of the Chicago Opera Company and national columnist Ann Landers. Stage performances included 14 years of theater productions, while the LLC "Books and Lunch" program drew women not only from the downtown area but from all around the city.

Calvin's ownership of the building might bring similar type events to 61 Sheldon. Calvin envisions such uses for the space as noontime lectures, Calvin Academy for Lifelong Learning classes (for older learners), music recitals, short theatre productions, dance recitals, a variety of concerts, literary or cultural readings, educational workshops and seminars and more.

The college also recognizes opportunities for use by a variety of community groups, including the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts, the World Affairs Council, West Michigan Women's Studies Council, River City Improv, West Michigan Jazz, and the Gilbert & Sullivan Society, many of which are interested in the building and would welcome improvements that include more accessibility and better sound and lighting systems.

The LLC building itself is historically significant and can be found on the National Register of Historic Places. Designed by architect William Robinson, the building is in Richardsonian Romanesque style. The imposing facade is reinforced by curved arches over the windows and a recessed front entrance. French plate glass windows, stone trim, and slate roof enhance the exterior while classical motifs adorn the interior, including a striking Tiffany window.

The Ladies Literary Club had been seeking a new owner for the building since June 2005 when the organization voted to disband because of dwindling membership.