A History of 171 Cedar Arts Center

THE BRUCE HOUSE

The home that serves as the namesake for 171 Cedar Arts Center was constructed in 1852. Mr. Harry C. Heermans owned the home from 1893 until 1919 and ran several successful business ventures during that time. Together with his business partner, Thomas Lawrence, Mr. Heermans’ companies were responsible for a wide range of services to the community. For ten years The Heermans and Lawrence Company was responsible for every facet of the Corning Village Waterworks, including maintenance and expansion of the system. Mr. Heermans also found himself managing extensive real estate holdings, producing and repairing engines and machinery, and the owner of a drug and wall paper company.

The house began a new life in 1919 when it was sold to the Knights of Columbus Permanent Home Association. It was during this period that the building was altered. A 2000-square-foot upstairs hall was the major addition. This served as a meeting room, a place for activities such as the Knights of Columbus Friday night fish fries, and, later, would be transformed into Mme. Halina’s Dance Studio. The Knights of Columbus served as caretakers of this historic home until 1967.

The building was then purchased by Douglass Bruce, a creative and civic-minded businessman, and owner/operator of Chowning Regulator Company next door. He began renting out the elegant old rooms as studios to weavers, painters, and musicians. Soon, along with Justin Lubold, Bill Belden, Barbara Wilson, and others, Bruce conceived of creating an organization that would be a place for artists and the community to come together in an atmosphere where both “could thrive and grow.” In 1968 171 Cedar Arts Center was born, taking its name from its address. Since its inception it has been a place for professional artists to hone their skills and show their talents, but it has also been a home for those who want to learn.

The Bruce House was built in the Italianate Style, and with few exceptions it remains close to its original character. With 8,750 square feet in two and a half stories, it has been the perfect place to learn and experience the arts. Highlights of the house include a large central hall staircase with a stained-glass skylight. Windows and doors are trimmed in an ornate fashion and several rooms feature elaborate carved fireplace surrounds that incorporate ceramic tile. These architectural features make for a warm and inviting home, creating an ambiance cherished by those who walk through its towering front doors with etched-glass panels. It is, in and of itself, a work of art.

The Bruce House now holds the Ballroom, where various dance classes are held; five music studios; 171’s Business Office, and the Woodcock Ceramic Studio.

 

THE WOODCOCK STUDIO

For centuries people of all cultures and times have explored clay, creating utilitarian and sculptural objects. 171’s goal was to continue that exploration and develop a program that offered courses for artists of all skill levels.

The Woodcock Ceramic Studio went under construction in the late ‘90s and opened in 2000. Before that, ceramic classes were held in the basement of the Bruce House. The Beuchner Gallery and a visual arts classroom occupied the space where the wheel and hand building rooms currently reside. Those were relocated upon the opening of the Drake House, clearing space for the renovated studio. The Woodcock Studio was made possible after a generous donation by the Woodcock Foundation.

Woodcock boasts a bright, clean space for learning, teaching, creating and exploring all aspects of Ceramic Arts. It features 10 pottery wheels, a slab roller, an extruder, a pug mill, a glazing area, and two kilns.

 

THE DRAKE HOUSE

The Drake House is the newest member of 171 Cedar Arts campus. The home was built in 1865 and was named for James A. Drake. Mr. Drake owned the home from 1893 to 1902, but never lived in the house. Instead, it was his brother Charles E. Drake who occupied the home for nine years.

Like Mr. Heermans up the street, James A. Drake was a successful businessperson during his day. He was the President of the First National Bank of Corning and founder of the M.D. Walker and Co. construction business, later known as the Corning Building Company. Over the years, Corning Building Company has had a significant impact on Corning’s physical development and growth—and in fact, supplied some of the materials for 171’s renovation project.

Shortly after Mr. Drake sold the historic house in 1902, the home was converted into multi-family housing. As area industry was growing, employees of local industry were in need of affordable housing. This served to bring in a wide range of families to Corning’s Southside. During the 1980s and 90s, the condition of the apartment house deteriorated significantly. The owner’s estate let the home go to auction, at which time Market Street Restoration Agency purchased the building.

The agency searched for an occupant for the property and found one in Steuben Church People. The plan was for the two organizations to renovate the property and use it as a shelter. As final architectural plans were being drawn, an arsonist set fire to the landmark facility. This devastating blaze completely destroyed that rear portion of the home and severely damaged the roof. This meant that Steuben Church People could no longer use the building as planned, and they decided they could not take on a re-building project of the magnitude that now faced them. The City of Corning was concerned for the safety of the site and wanted to tear down the structure because of the extensive damage. A board member of Market Street Restoration donated expensive temporary roofing material to keep the wrecking ball at bay. As it happened, the crisis occurred at the same time that 171 Cedar’s Board of Directors was searching for additional space. The location was perfect. The structure, however, would now require a renovation of major proportions. While the Drake House was being vented and dried, 171 explored costs, tested the waters on capital fundraising, and seized the opportunity. They brought in the noted firm of Ann Beha & Associates from Boston, specialists in redevelopment of historic properties with experience in arts spaces, to develop the plans.

The Drake House was originally designed in the Gothic Revival style of architecture with some influences of the Stick Style that was popular after the Civil War. Some of the more interesting features of the original structure were its slate roof and floor-to-ceiling windows. The latter feature was maintained in the renovation. Like the Bruce House, this too had beautiful fireplace surrounds, two of which were restored in the renovated structure. The exterior underwent a restoration during which the architects tried to preserve the original feel of the home, while the interior underwent a complete rehabilitation. The architects focused on making the interior contemporary and professionally functional in accordance with the mission of 171, while maintaining some of the historic features and its homey charm.

The Drake House holds a dance studio, with an overlooking balcony; an art studio; numerous classrooms that often hold language classes; and the Houghton gallery.

 

171 Today

Since first opening the Bruce House doors in 1968, 171 Cedar Arts Center has provided the community with a warm, friendly home in which to explore the arts. Whether through exhibition of local artists or classes for the public, 171 has offered a unique opportunity to experience creativity and art.

Over the years, with help from supporters and outstanding faculty 171 has grown into an award-winning organization that provides top-quality programming and instruction. But, along the way, the center has preserved a distinct, hometown flavor that makes access to the arts comfortable for everyone.