ArtPrize, social club for arts, coming to 123-year-old building

Building will exhibit 18 works in $500,000 ArtPrize competition

By Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk
The Grand Rapids Press

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — The Knights of the Pythias, a century ago, was an influential secret society whose members were men of position and prestige.

The fraternal organization and secret society, organized in Washington, D.C., during the Civil War, was granted a charter by the United States Congress.

In Grand Rapids, members in good standing met in the Pythian Castle in the upper floors of the Harris Building.

“It was a drinking club,” Bob Dykstra, present owner of the Harris Building, told The Grand Rapids Press. “Upstairs, there were hotel rooms for female guests of male members.”

Today, the Grand Rapids-based developer has loftier plans for the 123-year-old building in the Heartside neighborhood.

Dykstra plans to launch a new arts and social club at the building.

“An athletic club for the arts,” explained the developer who built the Michigan Athletic Club.

Club membership in The Renaissance Club will gain access to facilities including a piano bar and lounge, a game room, and a ballroom that can accommodate 150 to 300 people for live music, theater and live streaming events.

Dinner theater and jazz or blues nights are in the works. So are art classes and cooking classes.

Launch date for The Renaissance Club is planned for early January. Membership sales are expected to begin the end of October.

“The whole idea is to promote the arts a little differently than everybody else does,” Dykstra said.

The Harris Building, which hosted an exhibition at ArtPrize 2013 and a smaller ArtPrize show last year, returns to ArtPrize Seven with an exhibition of 18 works in the $500,000 competition opening Sept. 23.

“It’s a great way to get the word out that we’re going to be a year-round gallery,” Dykstra said. “One of the biggest in the Midwest.”

But Dykstra has even bigger collaborations planned with two other nonprofit organizations, Opera Grand Rapids and Fashion Has Heart.

Opera Grand Rapids will launch its Emerging Artist program at the Harris Building on Sept. 18 when the company kicks off a series of “popOpera” performances featuring cabaret, musical theater as well as operatic entertainment. Subsequent events will be held in December and next year in February, March and May.

“Our goal is that it will allow us to reach audiences that we don’t reach with our staged productions,” said Anne Berquist, executive director of Opera Grand Rapids.

The evening of fine food and cocktails includes an exclusive preview of Harris Building’s ArtPrize Seven exhibition. Proceeds from the gala will benefit Opera Grand Rapids’ Emerging Artist Program.

In fact, 5 percent of all proceeds from sales and other events over the next 16 months will be donated to Opera Grand Rapids and Fashion Has Heart, an organization using art, design and fashion to support and benefit wounded veterans of the U.S. military.

“Fashion has Heart” is doing some great things,” Dykstra said.

Built in 1892 on the site of the former Grand Rapids Union Brewery, the four-floor building was used briefly as a furniture exhibitor hall. In 1909, the Harris Sample Furniture Co. moved into first floor of the building. The second and third floors, behind a stained glass window featuring inverted triangle of blue, yellow and red, a symbol of the Knights of Pythias, were occupied by the Eureka Lodge No. 2 of the fraternal order.

The second floor of the 38,000-square-foot building boasted an 18-foot high, domed ceiling, and the third floor was illuminated with skylights in the hallways.

The Harris Furniture Co. closed in 1969, and the building was occupied by several retailers until falling into disrepair by the early 2000s. The Urban Renaissance Group acquired the building and began renovations, leading to its first tenant, The Local Epicurean, a locally owned organic pasta company.

When Dykstra first acquired the building seven years ago, he planned to renovate it for first-floor retail and second and third-floor offices. Until the nationwide collapse of the financial industry.
“We were four weeks away from financing with National City Bank, and they were taken over by PNC,” Dykstra said.

The delay led to a new strategy for the building on Grand Rapids’ Avenue of the Arts.

“Now we know what we want to be when we grow up,” he said. “In hindsight, this is better. It’s a lot more fun.”
 

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