Monday, May 16, 2011

Prez. Hall Opens Doors: Let Community Shine!

Preservation Hall opened its doors on Saturday, and what an exciting event it was! A few Wellfleetians started approaching the former Catholic Church on Main Street in late afternoon. By 5 o’clock hundreds stood outside and listened intently as lawyer Bruce Bierhans described the first email he had received about the project. That email suggested he might want to join a dynamic group of Wellfleetians with a novel idea: the creation of a community center in downtown Wellfleet, using the shell of a building formerly occupied by the Catholic Church. Weddings would be held in "Preservation Hall" as a source of revenue. Such a venue could become an asset to the town and the community.

Four years later, the dream of three Wellfleet women has become reality. We have our community center and it is amazing. Bruce joked that Marla Rice, Ellen LeBow, and Anne Suggs had “spent half their life in this building.” He mentioned how much he had enjoyed working with the Prez. Hall board, who all eventually joined him on the steps. (Read his description of the day at Cape Cod Barrister.)

“Through the dynamic leadership of the few, others were attracted to this project,” said Mary Fox, next up at the podium. Behind her glowed the renovated doors, created by an itinerant artist named Johnathan Kendall, whose work will hang in the hall this summer, an exhibit curated by Mark Gabrielle.

Managing director Janet Lezniak spoke of her admiration that “the heart-center of a town could be revitalized through the restoration of a building.” She then added, “We are all stewards of this beautiful place.”

Assistant Town Manager Rex Peterson called Prez. Hall “the crown jewel of Main Street.”

Fundraiser-in-chief Nicholas Gulde informed the crowd that 2000 Wellfleetians had made donations. He went on to specify 200 people had given $1000 or more. “One generous and creative donor gave $200,000 as a challenge grant,” he said. In five months, that grant had been matched. Fundraising was conducted in unusual ways, birdhouse auctions, dinner parties, garden tours, wreath pageants, the now annual Christmas event dubbed “Deck This Hall,” which was associated one year with a craft fair.

Next at the podium came Dan Wolf, our new MA State Senator, whom I met in February. “This commitment to community is truly overwhelming,” Dan told the crowd. He added that the Main Street building was like a time machine that bridged the past and would “speak to future generations of who we are and what we believe in.” (Dan did not speak and run, either. He was present all evening.)

Finally, Marla Rice mounted the steps to cheers from town residents, who have all had ample opportunity, over the past few years to grasp, with what dedication she approached the project, always willing to engage with members of the community and share her enthusiasm for what was then merely a blueprint in her mind. Marla told the crowd, “This is a love story, and love is all about relationships, and this relationship is between this community and this building.” She compared Prez. Hall to a blank canvas and urged Wellfleetians to fill it in. “Please keep daring to imagine,” she concluded. (In the photo above, Marla, right, celebrates later in the evening with two other Prez. Hall muses, Anne Suggs and Gigi Ledkovsky.)

Marla cut the ribbon, the doors were opened, and then the real fun began. The crowd descended the brand new cobblestone driveway for a potluck dinner. A rousing dance party followed, with a live band, a wicked-good live band. “Wellfleet has gone wild,” someone remarked.

Seven hundred people crossed the threshold on this first day of community gathering. What I appreciated most was the reverence and respect the building inspired.

Fortunate enough to have a private tour with another muse, Dale Rheault, I got to see the office, the boiler, even the kitchen. I also admired striking use of unexpected color in the painting job by Tom Reinhardt, the custom tiles, created by Ellen LeBow, and the mosaic floor on the landing.

There will be free events held in Prez. Hall all week, so don’t miss out if you are in town. (I just shared the schedule with our guests.)

My younger daughter attended the ceremony with me and remarked that the shellfishermen seemed to be absent from the gaiety. Perhaps it was simply low tide and they were out on the flats? Also absent, Todd Barry, a member of the board but busy tending to diners at Moby’s Dick. At least three Selectmen were present, two current and one past. I saw Laura Capello, the dental hygienist at Outer Cape Dental, with her fireman husband, running after their children. That’s what struck me the most at the party: amidst the middle-aged revelers danced the town's young people, with their kids, eyes full of wonder at what Marla, Anne and Ellen had dared imagine could happen: true community spirit. How wonderful!