The Birth of Western Civilization

When 88-year-old Eleanor King-Hookham cuts the red ribbon at the September 6 opening of the Elmhurst Art Museum, she’ll mark the end of a quest that has spanned five decades. King-Hookham’s determination to establish a museum in the quiet western suburb has earned her the admiration of her neighbors. “Sometimes there wouldn’t be any action on the project for four or five years,” says Elmhurst mayor Tom Marcucci, “but Eleanor was always around to remind folks of her vision.”

Fifty years ago King-Hookham went to the Elmhurst Park District to request land for a museum but was rebuffed. “They said that if they gave me land, they would have to give it to everyone who asked,” she recalls. Momentarily sidetracked, she opted instead to cofound the Elmhurst Artists’ Guild. She told fellow members of her dream, but many were skeptical of such an ambitious project. Undeterred, she began raising money from friends and others, and in 1974 she formalized her efforts by creating the Elmhurst Fine Arts and Civic Center Foundation. At that time, she says, many Artists’ Guild members thought the museum’s construction would take only a few more years. By the time the project was completed more than two decades later, its price tag was $4 million.

To many in Elmhurst, King-Hookham has become a symbol of the positive role art can play in a person’s life. In addition to raising money for the museum, she’s painted and exhibited her own work in galleries around the world and until recently taught weekly art classes in her basement to some 150 men, women, and children.

At a time when even the largest art museums scramble for funding, opening a museum in a town of 44,000 residents might seem misguided. The Elmhurst museum will need $300,000 annually to stay afloat. The money will come from admission fees, art classes, a recently established endowment, and various fund-raising efforts. But King-Hookham, among others, believes the western suburbs will benefit from the museum, especially when public-school funding for arts education is dwindling. “We need more attention devoted to art out here,” says Eileen Broido, director of the Gahlberg gallery at the College of DuPage, which is one of the few serious exhibition spaces west of the city.

The Elmhurst Art Museum will certainly be the area’s most visually impressive art facility: it combines a 1952 house that Mies van der Rohe built in Elmhurst for business tycoon Robert McCormick with a new glass, steel, and concrete structure designed in the same Bauhaus style by architect Avi Lothan of DeStefano + Partners. Original plans called for the museum to be housed in an entirely new building designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, but when the owners of the McCormick house opted to sell, King-Hookham decided the structure would be ideal and watched from the sidelines in her hard hat as the house was moved intact to the museum site in Wilder Park. Lothan’s addition was designed around the house at its new address, 150 Cottage Hill. “What we wound up with is so much more beautiful than I ever dreamed it would be,” adds King-Hookham.

The Elm-hurst Art Museum will open with an eclectic permanent col-lection totaling approx-imately 270 pieces, according to Teresa Parker, the museum’s acting director and curator. Though many pieces are by young, relatively unknown artists, the collection also includes works by Thomas Eakins and Marc Chagall. The collection was amassed over the past 15 years in a vacant school building; every artist who exhibited in the temporary facility was asked to contribute to the collection. Parker says the Elmhurst Art Museum will focus on collecting late-20th-century artists, including those who might not have been “properly recognized” elsewhere, such as op-art painter Hal Regoff and abstract expressionist Melville Price.

‘BEZ’s Personality Change

WBEZ FM is shaking up its local cultural coverage, hoping to introduce a new daily morning show sometime next fall featuring segments from a group of the station’s regular contributors. But the switch means current anchors Victoria Lautman, Aaron Freeman, Mara Tapp, Andrew Patner, and Richard Steele will no longer have an hour or more of their own to program. The anchors are taking a wait-and-see approach, but some admit the switch will be difficult no matter how the new format evolves. “I will dearly miss an hour I could call my own,” says Lautman, whose Artistic License airs at 7 PM on Thursday evenings.

The new program, whose working title is Line One, will fill the 90-minute weekday slot given over to The Mara Tapp Show for the past seven years, though ‘BEZ program director and general manager Torey Malatia says the show could wind up running between 90 and 150 minutes. In gestation for more than two years, Line One will require the station to boost its operating budget for local programming by 30 percent. Much of the money will go into hiring more segment producers, and Malatia says he also plans to hire a host to guide listeners through the mix of segments.

Dust Builds at the Auditorium Theatre

The future of the Auditorium Theatre looks more uncertain than ever now that executive director Dulcie Gilmore has resigned. Gilmore, who came on board in 1987, delivered her resignation to the Auditorium Theatre Council board late last week, explaining that she wanted to devote more time to family matters (she’s expecting her first child later this year). ATC chairman David Smerling said Jan Kallish will serve as acting executive director while the board conducts a nationwide search for Gilmore’s successor. Kallish most recently served as executive director for Friends of the Auditorium Theatre, an ad hoc group formed after Roosevelt University president Ted Gross tried to wrest control of the landmark theater away from the council.

Highly visible on the local theater scene in the early 90s, Gilmore has been less of a presence in recent years. As a long run of Les Miserables in the late 1980s gave way to equally long runs of The Phantom of the Opera and Miss Saigon, she reaped much of the credit for revitalizing the Auditorium. She also oversaw a nearly $10 million renovation, paid for mostly with revenue from the long-running musicals. But with the exit of Show Boat last spring, the Auditorium’s situation seemed to deteriorate. No more megahits loomed on the horizon, and producer Cameron Mackintosh, who for many years had brought hit shows to the Auditorium, suddenly appeared interested in other venues, most notably the Civic Opera House, where Phantom will return next spring. Smerling concedes that the Auditorium is now facing serious competition from several new North Loop theaters. Whoever replaces Gilmore will have a tough time finding shows that can generate significant revenue.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Eleanor King-Hookham photo by Nathan Mandell.