Berenice Bradshaw calls it "the most rewarding thing I've ever done."
"A quantum leap forward," is how a Westminster College official describes it, then, thinking how that might reflect on the college's past, asks not to be identified.But he's right, as anyone familiar with the history of the performing arts at Westminster can attest. Concerts that used to be presented in a gymnasium; a music building that could have been mistaken for an oversized tool shed; a theater program that has already had two homes, the latest in a girls' dormitory.
This week all that changes, with the opening of the new Jewett Center for the Performing Arts. A $2.5-million structure on the northwest corner of the Westminster campus, its sharply angled exterior presents a dramatic new face to 1700 South and to the community at large.
"Obviously we've needed something like this for a long time," says Ray Ownbey, dean of Westminster's School of Arts and Sciences. "We've had music and theater programs in the past but never anything like this to house them in."
Westminster president Charles Dick agrees. "Even in the old days before the cutbacks in the music program in the late '70s," he recalls, "the orchestra used to rehearse in the basement of Walker Hall, which has a very low ceiling. I don't know how they ever did it."
Enter Berenice Jewett Bradshaw. As a Westminster alumna - Class of '22 - she was drawn back to her alma mater 60 years later after reading of the death of Westminster student Louis Merz in an Air Med Helicopter crash while responding to an emergency call. Fresh from a family tragedy of her own, beginning with her husband's murder in 1978, she stopped by the college to see about establishing a scholarship in Merz's memory.
Since then she has helped fund a total of 154 scholarships and a number of restoration projects on campus, making her the largest single donor in the college's history. As a result, in 1985 she was presented with an honorary doctorate and was named the first recipient of Westminster's Distinguished Service Award and, subsequently, a Distinguished Professor of Arts.
Still, Dick says, "we thought because of her generosity there ought to be some facility on campus that would be named for her." Among the proposals were a remodeling of the science building and a new arts center. Says Bradshaw, "They presented me with a whole page of options and I picked out the biggest."
The name Jewett was her choice, "for my ancestors - all of them." That line, she says, can be traced back to Henri de Juet, a knight of the First Crusade, and a document in the hallway of her Avenues apartment certifies her descent from one Maximillian Jewett, who came to this country from England in 1638 as a resident of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Nor did her input end there.
By all accounts she was instrumental in selecting the site ("Somebody wanted to put it down by the creek," she says. "That would have been an awful mistake!"), the view, even the color of the brick. ("I said I didn't want a brown building - I hate brown buildings!")
"She wanted a building that, when you saw it, you would recognize it as a performing arts facility," remembers M. Ray Kingston of FFKR Architects/Planners. "In her mind that was equated with columns, to give it a sense of grandeur. She was also concerned that it have a view on the west of the Salt Lake Valley and the State Capitol, which we have been able to incorporate. All in all, I found her to be a really beautiful lady, very sensitive, very kind, very trusting, and in fact ended up choosing the soft pinkish brick of the exterior to relate not only to the college but to the softness of Berenice's personality."
Originally budgeted at $2 million, the center's final plans came in at around $2.5 million. So, according to Dick, to supplement Bradshaw's gift of $2 million the college agreed to come up with the additional $500,000. The result is an 18,000 square-foot facility that everyone involved seems delighted with.
At first glance the casual observer is likely to be struck by a resemblance to Symphony Hall, another building Kingston helped design, albeit on a much smaller scale. (Other FFKR credits include the University of Utah's Alice Sheets Marriott Center for Dance and Southern Utah State College's Randall L. Jones Memorial Theatre.)
Not only is the exterior similar, with its triangular wedge to the north and glassed-in northeast facade, but the interior reflects the same basic layout, with offices, rehearsal rooms and dressing rooms to the right and, in the center, a fully enclosed, continental-seat auditorium. Outside, to the rear, there will even be a grass-sloped amphitheater like the one in front of the Salt Lake Art Center, itself adjacent to Symphony Hall.
But the differences are also instructive. Although for a time used as such, the lobby of Symphony Hall was never planned as a concert facility. Not so the lobby of the Jewett Center, whose recessed triangular columns and 100-plus feet of glass paneling enclose a wood-inlaid "conservatory" designed to accommodate chamber performances and up to 100 patrons. Nor did the designers of Symphony Hall have to take into account theatrical needs, of paramount importance at the Jewett Center.
"The mission given us," acknowledges acoustical consultant Frank Morris of Morris-Jones Associates, "was that it be used primarily for drama but should also support music, two activities that are at odds acoustically. A theater, of course, has to be relatively dead acoustically, yet incorporate useful reflections of sounds from the stage to help amplify the voice for the audience. We did this by shaping the ceilings and walls accordingly, also providing an ambience onstage for the musicians so they can hear the music they're playing."
Along the same lines Kingston designed the auditorium to take advantage of not only the increased intimacy but the slope of the floor. "Our goal was that everyone should be able to see the lip of the apron from their seats," he says, adding that the soft grays, blue-greens and blacks were selected with an eye toward directing the audience's attention to the stage.
As finished, the auditorium contains 265 seats, each with an unobstructed view of the stage, along with space for up to four wheelchairs. The stage itself is 35 feet deep, or 28 feet from the front curtain, with a 40-foot-wide proscenium - exactly, Kingston points out, the width of the proscenium at the Marriott Center. And even at this early date the results, as sampled by a member of the local theatrical community, have been proclaimed as excellent.
"I went up onstage and tried it from about every different position," reports KUER program host Gene Pack, who happened to be touring the facility the day they were running the acoustical checks. "Upstage, downstage, center stage and, of course, left and right. And even without projecting, speaking with a very low voice, it carried very nicely. Even when I was talking upstage (i.e., toward the rear wall) they could hearme at the very back of the house. It might be a little overwhelming with a full orchestra and chorus, but I was very impressed."
For the present, Westminster's plans are a bit more modest. The first concert, for example, will not be the building's grand opening but a performance this Friday, April 5, at 7:30 p.m. by the Westminster College Philharmonic, with horn soloist Scott Selberg. That will be followed by concerts Saturday and Sunday, April 6 and 7, at 8 p.m. and 3 p.m. respectively, by the Westminster Chamber Orchestra with violinist John Thompson. All three will be conducted by Jeff Manookian, with Thompson to solo in the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto.
The dedication ceremony will take place Saturday, April 13, at 1 p.m., followed by a 2:30 p.m. recital by pianist Clayton Williams, a 7:30 p.m. performance by the Westminster Concert Chorale and, on April 14 at 3 p.m., a recital by bass-baritone Glen Camomile.
On April 17-20 the Westminster Players take the stage for a three-night run of "A Thurber Carnival," with an 8 p.m. curtain time. Flutist Janet McLane will perform April 21 at 3 p.m.
Then on April 27 and 28 famed pianist Gary Graffman will solo with the Westminster Chamber Orchestra, the first of two grand-opening concerts. Admission to the April 27 concert, at 8 p.m., is $50 and by invitation only; tickets to the April 28 concert, at 3 p.m., are $15. Likewise the second concert pairing on May 4 and 5 (same times and prices), featuring soprano Linda Kelm, herself a Westminster alum.
Further concerts are scheduled at 3 p.m. May 12 with soprano Elizabeth Paniagua and at 8 p.m. May 18 and 3 p.m. May 19 with the Westminster Chamber Orchestra and pianist Marjorie Janove.
All except the Graffman and Kelm concerts are free to the public.
And beyond that?
"Well," ponders Dick, himself a performing flutist, "between the theater department and the expansion of our music activities over the last two or three years, we're going to be pretty well booked up, at least the first few months. But I'm sure that somewhere in the future we'll want to make it available to the community as much as we can."
He even acknowledges that some thought was given to the theater's possible use as a dance facility, though no such program exists at Westminster at present. "I really don't know what we're going to do in that area, but we thought it ought to be able to accommodate all aspects of the performing arts."
That amuses Bradshaw, who can remember the days when dancing was forbidden at Westminster and how she and her girlfriends got around the ban by forming what they called a "sewing circle." "But we never sewed," she says conspiratorially. "We'd just invite the boys over and throw back the rug."
She also recalls the time not so many months ago when Dick and his wife visited her following surgery, bringing with them as a gift a silk nightgown. "Then he said, `Would you be willing to buy us a piano for the center?' Well, I wanted Westminster to have the best. It turned out to be a $50,000 Steinway, so I guess that was the most expensive nightgown I ever had."
With her 88th birthday only a few weeks away, Bradshaw is hoping to be able to attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony on April 13. At that time she will be additionally honored with a full-color portrait of her to be placed in the Jewett Center's main hallway.
As for the building itself, she says now that it is finished she is anxious to see it, and hear it. "I never dreamed my later years would turn out this way," she says. "My daughter Marilyn says, `Mother, stop giving your money away' - she takes after the other side of the family. But I say, `Leave me alone - I love what I'm doing.
"That's what you can say: `This is what she wanted.' " And what the college needed as well.