Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Scottsdale aims to protect Kerr’s venue

[Source: Julie Janovsky, Tribune] -- Thirty years after her passing, Scottsdale historians are lobbying to keep Louise Lincoln Kerr’s legacy alive. The Scottsdale Historic Preservation Commission will be holding its second public open house on Dec. 10 — the anniversary of Kerr’s death — to inform Scottsdale residents of a plan to have the late philanthropist’s home and adjoining studio added to the city’s historic registry. Advocates of Kerr, who is described by many local arts patrons as “the grand lady of music,” say the honor is worth bestowing upon the Kerr Cultural Center (pictured). "The Kerr Center has a long and rich history of being an arts center. This honor will bring more visibility to the theater and recognize its value,” said Patricia Myers, author of Scottsdale: Jewel in the Desert, speaking of the musical performances Kerr’s intimate theater has hosted since the 1940s. The Historic Preservation Commission voted unanimously in September to initiate a case to the Scottsdale City Council to grant historic status to Kerr’s Center, located off Rose Lane, south of the Borgata shopping center.

For the next few months, the Commission will be holding hearings for the public and city leaders outlining why the center merits landmark status. Those who knew Kerr say she was instrumental in giving Scottsdale’s cultural scene a boost at a time when the area was not known for the arts. “She left a legacy of musical exposure,” said Charles Lewis, of Scottsdale. Lewis, a jazz pianist, met Kerr when he was a student at ASU in the 1950s. “Many of the artists who performed at the Phoenix Symphony and recitals would all come to her studio and have classical jam sessions,” said Lewis, who was a friend of Kerr’s son, Bill, while both attended ASU. Lewis said he would often attend dinners Kerr hosted at her Scottsdale home for artists and writers. At one point, Lewis said he moved into one of the small artist apartments on Kerr’s Scottsdale property, affectionately called “shacks.” “It was like its own artists’ community,” said Lewis, who recalled hearing famed violinist Isaac Stern practicing at Kerr’s studio. Kerr’s family members hope a historic designation will protect their matriarch’s property, which she bequeathed to Arizona State University so the institution could continue to celebrate her love of music with patrons of the venue. “The center is her legacy,” said Kerr’s great-granddaughter Kirby Weatherford, a sophomore at ASU. “It’s the only way to ensure it will be around for future generations to come.” Don Meserve, a planner with the city’s Historic Preservation office, said he hopes to have a decision by the City Council by March or April.