My husband and I lived for more than 20 years in Lakewood, almost within walking distance of the phenomenal Beck Center for the Arts. We introduced our children to live plays at the center, on Detroit Avenue at the city’s western edge. I still remember my very young son walking up to the stage’s edge after we watched “Seussical The Musical!” and reaching up into the air. I couldn’t figure out what he was doing.

“Where’s the screen, Mommy?” he asked, puzzled. I realized he thought he had been watching a movie, but knew “something” was different. I knew then and there we had to expose both of them to more live theater, and the Beck Center was our destination of choice.

This week, Beck Center officials announced a $5.7 million capital campaign for “significant upgrades” to the time-worn building and campus. The nonprofit has raised $2.9 million from individuals, foundations and corporations. The public part of the capital campaign officially will kick off on March 10.

I was thrilled to read about the renovation and upgrade plans. My memory of going to the sprawling building goes back to even before I had children. I remember attending a play with my mother when she and my father lived on Erie Cliff Drive in Lakewood. Between the Beck Center and the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival in the Civic Auditorium at Lakewood High School, I was well-schooled in top-notch live performances. I enjoyed visits to those two locations way more than even trips to the Hanna Theater downtown.

Through the years, the Beck (as many call it) has become one of the largest theater and arts centers on the West Side, educating and entertaining more than 65,000 people per year. Its rich history began in 1929 when it was founded by Richard Kay and called “Guild of the Masques.” It formally became known as the Lakewood Little Theatre in 1933 and moved to its current site in a theater originally designed for the movies, the Lucier, in 1938. The interior was redesigned for live plays and the group bought the building outright in 1943.

In the following decades, the theater group bought surrounding land, and in 1972 began a capital campaign to build a new center on its 3-acre site. The campaign raised $600,000, which was matched by advertising executive Kenneth C. Beck and the current Beck Center was built in 1975.

The proposed capital campaign announced last week will make “significant” upgrades, with the campaign led by Doug Hofman, Ellen Todia, Sandra Sauder and Beck Center President and CEO Lucinda Einhouse.

The first step to raising the rest of the money is a “rally” being called “Raise the Roof” from 6:30-8:30 p.m. March 10 at the center, 17801 Detroit Ave. There will be a reception, a short presentation and time for people to get a close look at project renderings. Top on the list will be:

An updated and enlarged entryway, more accommodating public restrooms and better access to classrooms for students of all ages and abilities

A conversion of the Armory building behind the Beck to a Center for Music and Creative Arts Therapies and improvements to its existing performance space

A new Center for Dance Education with two new dance studios in the main building

Bialosky Cleveland created the project’s design and Turner Construction will handle the work.

The Beck Center is a treasure for all in Northeast Ohio. We, for one, can’t wait! Meanwhile, all you arts lovers? Consider donating to this worthy campaign.

Contact this reporter at editor@westlifenews.com or 440-871-5797.

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