groups mull future
By Kevin Kelley
Published August 2, 2006
Drago is pursuing plans to transform the old red brick schoolhouse
on Dover Center Road into an arts center despite speculation that
Lakewood’s Beck Center may relocate to Crocker Park.
Drago, a painter who’s spearheading the Committee
for a Westlake Arts Center, envisions an institution offering education
programs, exhibitions and workshops. The center would also serve
as a point of collaboration among existing art facilities and organizations.
Drago’s committee, with funding from the city of Westlake
and the Ohio Arts Council, conducted a study to determine how an
arts center could be funded and where it could be located.
Efforts to create a community arts center emerged
at the same time as efforts to save “The Old Red Brick,” the 1907
school building located on Dover Center Road next to Lee Burneson
Middle School. The structure was the first consolidated schoolhouse
in the community then known as Dover Village and is geographically
located at the exact center of that former political entity. First
used as a high school in 1909, the building was later used as an
elementary school up through the 1960. It housed the offices of
the Westlake Board of Education until 2003 but has been vacant since.
The school district does not have the funds to restore
the building and would prefer to save it by leasing it to an appropriate
organization for $1 a year, Drago said.
Because the structure has such an enduring history
in the city and so many residents have a connection with it, many
are hoping it can be preserved.
But it’s not only sentimentality that argues for saving
the red brick building. Drago said her committee’s study indicated
the structure would be just the right size for a community arts
“The style of that building really lends itself to
that kind of educational facility” she said.
“We’ve determined that the red brick is actually large
enough for such a facility, however there’s no theater and no room
to expand and build a theater there,” she added.
But with established venues such as the Westlake Schools
Performing Arts Center and Clague Playhouse nearby, Drago said a
theater isn’t really needed. The red brick building could be used
exclusively for classrooms, exhibit space and offices, she said.
Her committee concluded the red brick building was
a good option for an arts center. It also determined between $2
and $3.5 million would be needed to remodel and furnish the building
as an arts center. This money could be raised over two years, the
The committee’s study was due to conclude by June
30. Then Robert Stark of Stark Enterprises, developer of Crocker
Park, met with Drago during the Crocker Park arts festival in mid-June.
He told her about his proposal to bring the Beck Center to Crocker
This news cast doubt on all she had been working for
over the past year. Would a new Westlake Arts Center be able to
compete with a relocated Beck Center at Crocker Park?
After consulting with the Ohio Arts Council, Drago’s
committee decided to extend its period of study until Oct. 30.
“I think everything is sort of open for discussion
right now,” Drago said, “and that’s where we are right now.”
Drago, a Los Angeles native who attended the Cleveland
Institute of Art before working in software development, said she
ultimately wants what will enable the arts to grow on the Westshore.
“I’m a big supporter and believer in the Beck Center,”
Drago said. But she also questioned whether it’s best for Beck to
move to Crocker Park.
Fred Unger, president of Beck’s board of directors,
told West Life the board began discussions 18 months ago about what
to do with the center’s aging facilities. In December, he said Stark
approached the board asking if Beck would consider relocating at
“We said that we would consider that and accelerated
our consideration of what our options were,” Unger said.
Unger said Beck officials have met with Lakewood Mayor
Tom George and council members about keeping the arts center in
that city. No one from Beck has yet met with Westlake officials,
Unger said, but they hope to sometime this month.
The Beck Center has hired an economic consultant to
study its future, Unger said. He added that a decision on Beck’s
future would be made later this year at the earliest.
“We’re some months away from being in a position in
which we can make a decision,” Unger said.
Beck would have to raise money to build a facility
at Crocker Park, although Unger said he didn’t know how much.
If the Beck Center does move to Crocker Park, it would
not necessarily compete with a Westlake Center for the Arts or other
local arts groups, Unger said. Beck is known for professional productions
while organizations such as Clague Playhouse are community theaters,
“I don’t believe there’s competition between those
for audiences,” Unger said. “I’d like to see a collaborative effort
between the two organizations because I think both would benefit.”
Published reports on Stark’s efforts to bring Beck
to Crocker Park have been short on details. Stark has been out of
the country and unavailable for comment, a company official said.
Drago said it was her understanding that Stark wanted
to place the Beck Center on land Crocker Park had set aside for
green space or other civic purposes in an agreement with the city.
“It’s not really his land to give away,” Drago said.
Unger also said Stark wanted to see the Beck Center
occupy space Stark pledged to Westlake for community purposes in
the Crocker Park development agreement.
“It’s up to the city of Westlake to decide if that’s
what they want to do,” Unger said.
Mayor Dennis Clough told West Life a citizens committee
already exists to gather input on how to use this portion of
“We have a certain amount of acreage that has been
given to the city of Westlake,” Clough said. “And it’s up to Westlake
to decide how to use it.”
That acreage has not yet been specifically designated,
Clough said, because Crocker Park was under development. But he
indicated that space would be defined shortly.
“We need to determine where that acreage is going
to be now so we can move forward with our plan,” the mayor said.
Robert Parry, the city’s director of planning and
economic development, said the area of land in question is between
two and three acres.
Clough said he favors building an outdoor amphitheater
which could be used as an outdoor skating rink in the winter.
The mayor said that while he has heard Stark discuss
the possibility of bringing the Beck Center to Crocker Park, he
noted no Beck officials have approached city leaders.
“We have never talked about giving our land away to
anyone,” Clough said.
While she remains open to what Stark, city leaders
and community members have to say, Drago said her committee is moving
ahead with its study.
“We made a commitment to the city and the Ohio Arts
Council, so we have to complete what we started,” she said.
Drago, the mother of two, said she believes her committee
can raise the $2 to $3.5 million needed to renovate the red brick
building in three years. Shortly the committee will be searching
for financial backers — who she calls “champions” — to step up and
make major donations.
There are no current plans to seek public money for
the project, Drago said.
Public sentiment in saving the red brick building
could be a key factor in determining how this all winds up.
“I’ve kind of developed an affection for it,” Drago
said of the structure. “I think it would really be sad for the community
to lose that building.”
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