PEORIA — Kim Blickenstaff is turning his eyes to the Peoria Women's Club next.
The businessman and philanthropist plans to aid renovation efforts at the club, 301 NE Madison Ave., which will be highlighted during a public open house there from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Friday.
The 126-year-old club traces its roots to a group of Peoria women with familiar names — including Clara Parsons Bourland, Lucie Brotherson Tyng and Julia Proctor White — who sold stock at $10 a share to fund the construction of the facility.
Its 432-seat music hall and theater was designed as a venue to bring performing arts to the area. It served as an early home to the Peoria Players community theater troupe that celebrated its centenary season this year, as well as to entertainers like Steve Allen and writers like Carl Sandburg and Victor Hugo.
But it fell into disrepair after a fire some 40 years ago, and the second-floor facility has not seen major renovation since.
Once restored, club members hope that it can serve as a home for small-venue events including lectures, recitals and plays.
Blickenstaff has a special interest in the building. His mother, the former Betty Jayne Brimmer, had experience on the club's stage, and his grandmother is believed to have been a member of the club.
“It’s an important historical building ... part of the women’s movement before women had the right to vote,” Blickenstaff said in a prepared statement. “It deserves to be restored and brought back, just as the (Scottish Rite) Cathedral does.”
The southern California-based biotech entrepreneur is redeveloping or restoring a swath of Peoria Heights, and also recently purchased the nearby Scottish Rite Cathedral to renovate at 400 NE Perry Ave.
At the time, he talked about hopes for "entertainment corridors" or a possible theater district.
Preliminary work began last year on critical renovations to prevent leaks into the building by performing gutter repairs and tuck-pointing.
“We’ve got work to do, but I think this building is worth saving,” club vice president Carol Hornickle said at the time. “We’ve got to get people to recognize the possibilities. If these women could (start) it at a time they had no right to vote, and when most of them probably really weren’t working ... you’ve got to do something.”
Among other work, peeling paint and abatement work must be addressed, along with the addition of a modern HVAC system — though club members do still hold regular meetings on site. Plumbing and electrical work is also on the agenda, as are new windows. And an elevator must be added to comply with Americans with Disabilities Act standards.
“We need to make her pretty again,” Blickenstaff said. “I want to kick this off ... get people interested, get a ballpark figure on the cost and raise toward that amount.”
He'll be celebrating his 67th birthday the day of the open house, which will also give visitors a look at one-of-a-kind items inside, such as a canvas made in 1896 by prominent Swiss landscape artist Francois Charles Peyraud, whose other works include part of the famed "Battle of Gettysburg" cyclorama.
“We are in a great corridor of rebirth,” the Peoria Women’s Club said in a statement. “The neighboring Scottish Rite Cathedral is being activated and re-purposed. The newly constructed Ronald McDonald House will begin hosting families in December and the Peoria Labor Temple is taking on a new life. ... We are working to revive and re-purpose Peoria Women's Club in order to positively affect Peoria and our surrounding communities."
Attendance at the event, which will feature refreshments and building tours, is free, but attendees may RSVP to Hornickle at email@example.com or at (309) 453-6050.