Full Steam Ahead!
Bathed in the afterglow of witnessing the opening of the Page-Walker as an arts and history center in December 1991, the Friends continued to be involved in the ongoing planning and development of the second and third floors of the historic building as well as the grounds.
For the next three years (January 1992 - December 1994), the Friends participated in weekly meetings that included the architect, Norma Burns, Polovik Construction Company, and representatives from the Town of Cary. The Friends worked diligently with these other stakeholders to ensure that the historic integrity of the building was protected while making changes in the hotel so that it could function effectively as an arts and history center.
In 1992, the Page-Walker was presented with the Mayor’s Award of Excellence to applaud the sensitive handling of the restoration project while insuring that the historic structure would function well as a community arts and history center. The award also recognized the efforts of the Friends, champions of the project, to enhance the sense of community in Cary at a time when the town was expanding territorially and the population was rapidly growing. This recognition reinforced our commitment to the completion of the project. To achieve this we identified two major goals:
- Capital Campaign: identify funds to help complete the second and third floors with an elevator to enable tables and chairs to be stored in the basement rather than in the lobby and the director's office.
- Create arts experiences in the Page-Walker since funds were not available to the Town to hire an arts programming supervisor for the center.
To address the first goal of fundraising, the Capital Campaign Committee conducted a "mini-campaign." Additional businesses, corporations and foundations were solicited. In addition to these efforts, we again embraced fundraisers. Not only did the fundraisers contribute to the Capital Campaign, but they also raised community awareness of the importance of the effort. We continued to participate in Lazy Daze with our "Ice Cream Parlor" in front of the First Baptist Church, and in 1994, joined the community celebration of the first Cary Spring Daze by dressing in period clothes and selling herbs in addition to shirts, bricks and stationery.
We learned some valuable lessons as we participated in the many fundraisers over the years. Not only were we raising funds and public awareness of the Page-Walker, but we were also building a sense of community for those who participated in our fundraising efforts. A perfect example of this can be seen in a 1992 letter that we received from a soldier based in Fayetteville. He asked if we were still sponsoring the "Page-Walker Golf Classic" in Cary and indicated that he had participated in the 1989 Classic. While he was serving in Desert Shield, Desert Storm, and in Germany, he dreamed of participating again. "I had the longest drive in the tournament of '89. It was the best tournament I ever played in." It was great to hear that we had created some wonderful memories and a sense of the Cary community for people along the way!
In April 1993, we presented our final contributions for the restoration of the Page-Walker at the Cary Town Council meeting. We felt satisfied that no stone had been left unturned in our quest for funding, and that we had done our best for the "jewel in the crown." We were most appreciative of the leadership of the Cary Town Council throughout the years, and especially thankful for the Town's willingness to assume responsibility for the protection and management of the Page-Walker as an arts and history center. A contented sigh was heard among the Friends as we closed the books on the Capital Campaign.
Our second major goal, to create arts programming for the community, was of great importance to the Friends during the three-year span between the opening of the first floor in December 1991 and the unveiling of the entire facility in December 1994. The response to an earlier survey that the Friends had mailed to 11,000 households indicated that citizens wanted the Page-Walker to provide experiences in the arts and history, as well serve as a space for family and community celebrations. As there was no Page-Walker supervisor in place to create these arts experiences, the Friends had to play a leadership role in providing exciting opportunities in the arts and history for citizens.
In the spring of 1992 we launched our Inaugural Concert Series in the first floor gallery. As we had no funds to support the series, we asked local artists if they would donate their performance to enable us to create a fund for future concert series. Thanks to the efforts of Board members Barbara Brown and Sarah Sheffield, four outstanding artists volunteered to be a part of the inaugural series entitled "A Gift to the Page-Walker." The series kicked off with Ira David Wood and his wife, Sara, presenting a dramatic interpretation on Valentine's Day called "Love Letters" by A.R. Gurney. Anita Burroughs-Price (harpist), Hugh Partridge (viola) and members of the NC Symphony, and Dick Gable's Allstars completed the sold out season. Tickets to the concert series were snapped up quickly in the following years. Community support, plus grants from United Arts, enabled the Friends to compensate the artists for future performances.
Additional concerts were given in the gallery as word spread about the opening of the Page-Walker. After a performance by the Wake Chamber Players, the director, Michael Kissinger, stated "the acoustics in the Page-Walker are the finest in the Triangle area for chamber music." We were thrilled that the renovation had also created such a special acoustical venue to enjoy performances.
In addition to creating programming for the Page-Walker so that the community would have a deeper understanding of the significance and purpose of the historic building, we also wanted to give our rapidly growing community a more global understanding of our Town's rich heritage. Board member, Sarah Sheffield, was invaluable in this effort. She was a Town employee and supervised the Cary Arts Center, which was located behind the Cary Library. Sarah worked in partnership with the Friends to create unique experiences in the arts, literature and history for the Page-Walker and broader community. One of the most memorable was Revue! Review!, a celebration of Cary's history in the form of a musical walking tour in May, 1992. The event, which was free to the public, used the historic buildings on Academy Street for performance venues.
Local and visiting artists entertained visitors with music appropriate to the time frame of the historic buildings. Church choirs, shape note singers, cloggers, CHS jazz band, Sweet Adeline's and banjo players complemented an ice cream social (by the Friends, of course!), antique car show, quilt and art shows, and horse and buggy rides at the Page-Walker. The Cary Stage Players portrayed, in authentic costumes, early residents of the day. Tim Taylor impersonated Dr. James Templeton, one of Cary's first doctors, by wearing his World War I uniform, which is now on exhibit in the Cary Heritage Museum. Revue! Review! was awarded first place in the Arts and Humanities Division by the NC Parks and Recreation Department. Sarah's passion for the arts, history and literature was felt throughout Town government. In July 1994, the Cary Parks and Recreation Department expanded its focus, and Sarah became the first supervisor of Cultural Resources in the newly organized Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources.
It was time for the Page-Walker hotel to meet the community and the world as the Page-Walker Arts and History center.