Monday, August 22, 2016 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews
On March 12, 2010, Craig Hall was in town visiting family when he got a call from his best friend Purdie Baumann, the daughter of Maywood Fine Arts founders Lois and Ernie Baumann.
“She was crying and saying the studio was on fire,” Hall said, referencing the former Maywood Opera House at 20 N. Fifth Ave. that the Baumanns turned into Stairway of the Stars dance studio. “So, my dad and I drove over here and saw the flames and couldn’t believe it.”
Hall started dancing in that studio when he was four years old and took the lessons he learned inside of the more than century-old building all the way to the New York City Ballet, where he recently retired after a 20-year career with the world-renowned company.
The 37-year-old Maywood native recalled that harrowing phone call last Saturday while standing in the space that has since risen from the ashes of that 2010 blaze — a roughly $2 million, state-of-the-art dance studio.
“When the old studio (burned down), it was like a little piece of all of us was broken, but it’s nice to know that there’s finally a place where the kids can come back to and have fun,” Hall said. “It’s a dream come true.”
In order to get here, said Ernie Baumann, the kids raised over $13,000 in change, mostly pennies. To put that in perspective, he said, “$10,000 is a million pennies.”
“We had these little jars that had ‘Raising the Barre’ on them and hundreds and hundreds of kids would go home, bring the jars back and get another one,” he said. “The bank agreed to take the pennies and our people would come in with buckets of pennies and the tellers would scatter so they wouldn’t have to be the ones (counting them). We were in there every day.”
India Rose Renteria, Purdie’s daughter and the Baumanns’ granddaughter, described how the process of accumulating that much money in spare change.
“Some kids took the penny jars to their school, some people put them at their offices at work,” she said. “We had these little tubes and we’d put pennies in them and they’d go into this big penny jar and that filled up really quickly. It was really nice. Any extra change that anyone had would go straight into the jar.”
Renteria, 14, has been performing practically her whole life and has already landed roles in productions like the Tony Award-winning musical “Ragtime.” Her mother spent eight years in New York City as a Radio City Rockette.
“My niece, she’s five years old now,” said Hall (who is pictured below with his mother Dorothy Hall). “She’s discovering this place all over again. It’s like a cycle that never ends.”
There are also echoes of that cyclical dynamic in the new space, which replicates some architectural features that were dominant in the old building.
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“This room here,” said Lois Baumann, her voice echoing throughout the new facility during Saturday’s grand opening, “We call this the ballroom, because the studio we lost to a fire six years ago (had a ballroom on the third floor). We replicated the windows that looked out over Fifth Ave.”
The building’s Main Street-facing entrance resembles a train depot — the generations commuting in and out in spurts. This stop, however, is always the destination that’s most meaningful. It’s home.
Nowadays, that home has been modernized, with new shock-absorbent floors installed in the facility’s new studios, each of which also features large wall-size windows.
“This studio belongs to all of us,” said Lois Baumann said. And in a way, Hall noted, it does. The design earned the professional dancer’s seal of approval, but so did its continuity with the outside environment.
“My heart will always be with the old space, but there’s nothing like having brand new studios,” he said. “This rivals some of the studios in New York City, especially with all the space and the windows. As dancers, we’re like flowers who need sunlight to grow and from the outside it’s like a little performance for the people on the street to see what’s happening in here. So, both sides get something out of it, which is very nice.”
Since the 2010 fire, MFA’s dancers had rehearsed inside of First Congregational Church, 400 N. Fifth Ave., but the organization’s other building, located at the corner of Fifth Ave. and Lake St., had also gotten cramped because square footage had been lost with the fire.
“I’m thankful for the church, but I’m so happy to be here, too,” said Mikaylin Lewis, a 14-year-old dance student who has been with MFA for six years.
“It’s going to be awesome, because its going to open up a lot more space,” said Amber Bautista, a 13-year-old guitar student.
“This is amazing,” said Sara Espiricueta, 14, who has been dancing with MFA for six years. “I kind of remember the old studio when I was little, but to see this new studio is incredible.”
Rev. Theodore Matthews, pastor of Empowerment Church in Melrose Park, grew up in Maywood and marveled at MFA’s impact from afar. He said the new studio provides some reassurance that the organization’s work will continue.
“I think its awesome what they’ve been able to do,” he said. “I’m super excited to see them continue their impact on young people in the community. They’ve made a difference for years and it’s exciting to see what’s to come. I hope others get around them and support them so they can continue what they’ve been doing.”
Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin (1st), one of numerous elected officials who attended the Aug. 20 grand opening, lauded Lois Baumann’s vision for area young people before splashing praise on the bold new facility.
“There’s no greater investment that we can make as a society than to invest in all these young people and to give them a solid foundation and a start in life,” he said. VFP