Maple Leaf Festival Parade grand marshals gratified with LAC success
As Jim and Diane Niehoff pass the Lumberyard Arts Center in Saturday’s Maple Leaf Festival Parade, they will have the pleasure of seeing a dream realized.
Vender booths set up in the Lumberyard for the festival will be just the latest activity that has made the center a hub of community activities, a development that gives the Niehoffs great satisfaction.
“On nights like art walk, to see people just filling the place up, we really feel it does attract people to downtown,” Diane said.
The Niehoffs will be grand marshals of Saturday’s Maple Leaf Festival. In making the selection, the Maple Leaf Festival Committee cited the couple’s effort in helping renovate the old Ives-Hartley Lumber Building into what is now the Lumberyard Arts Center. Diane was the president of the Lumberyard Arts Center Board of Directors, and she and Jim continue to serve on the board.
As owners of a downtown storefront and one-time owner of a business in the building at 719 Eighth Street, they had a natural interest in seeing downtown succeed.
“But I think probably our No. 1 motivation was to help keep downtown Baldwin alive,” Diane said.
They also had experienced success in saving old structures for reuse, having moved the Victorian house that is now Three Sisters Inn to save it.
“We’ve always been into saving old things,” Diane said. “We thought the house turned out well.”
Saving the lumberyard, with its unique brick façade was a must, Diane said.
“Just the architecture itself is a work of art, and they don’t build them like that anymore,” she said.
Diane wasn’t the only one who thought that or immediately saw its potential as an arts center when in 2002 it was learned Baldwin Lumber was closing. It was a vision and passion her fellow Baldwin Community Arts Council member Sandy Cardens shared.
“Sandy and I got together and thought that would be a great place for an arts center,” she said. “We thought it would be a great place in the center of downtown to enjoy the arts and bring people to downtown.
“I can dream big dreams, but Jim brings me back to earth.”
With the Lumberyard Arts Center now a reality, you may think, in this case, her husband didn’t put the brakes to Diane’s imagination. But the Niehoffs agree he had did have to reel in her plans.
“Our first ideas were a lot wilder,” she said. “There were artists’ lofts on the second floor. Jim had to tell me there was such a thing as codes.”
If Jim brought her back to earth, he did share her enthusiasm for the lumberyard and its potential. His vision was for its renovation to reflect its past.
“I wanted to keep the interior as much like it was as we could so people could see what it had looked like,” he said.
Diane said although much changed, visitors can still get a sense of the building’s past from its open courtyard, second-story catwalk and roof rafters.
Of course, the renovation couldn’t be realized overnight. There were years of fundraising before work started to remodel the front of the building. The arts center opened in 2010.
The work of the Niehoffs and others has paid off. The arts center is now home to summer art walks, the Valentine’s Day Chocolate Auction, art classes, artist shows, theatrical performances and many other public and private gatherings.
Next spring, the arts center will host perhaps its most prestigious event when the Smithsonian Institution’s “The Way We Worked” traveling exhibit runs from March 23 to May 5. Baldwin City will be one of six Kansas communities to host the exhibit.
The five-panel traveling Smithsonian exhibit will be on display in the art center’s central courtyard. The gallery to the west will have a display examining the touring exhibit’s theme from a local perspective, and a video of local recollections, including those taped last spring, will be playing in the south classroom.
In scheduling the exhibit for the Lumberyard Arts Center, officials with the Kansas Humanities Council, which is co-sponsoring the show with the Smithsonian, noted how appropriate it was for a former lumberyard to host the exhibit exploring the history of work.
Jim said he wanted to explore that angle further. Last spring, he started preparing the north section of the building, which has yet to be remodeled, for viewing during the show. His plan was to return that section as much as possible to its working lumberyard days.
That effort suffered a setback when a fire broke out in the northern part of the building in May.
“I’m not sure what we can do about it at this point, but we’re still thinking,” he said.
Fundraising continues to renovate the north section for use as a community theater.