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Nancy Brown Leads Historic Preservation Efforts [Part_1]

On this leadership edition of our series, a profile of a person whose award winning efforts in historic preservation are connected to a community, a Confederate soldier, and a Country Rock reunion.

Nancy Brown Dornan is President of the Springfield Landmarks Preservation Trust; board member of the Urban Districts Alliance; and an enthusiastic supporter of the Springfield and regional community. 16 years ago Dornan established the Springfield Landmarks Preservation Trust as the nonprofit which could accept the donation of the historic Gillioz Theater from Jim D. Morris. Dornan, along with her fellow SLPT board members and a great many donors and volunteers from the civic and business community, have worked to restore the theater to its original luster. Funding from Federal, State, Springfield and Greene County governmental sources, along with local businesses and individuals have made the restoration possible. 9 million dollars has been raised so far with another million needed to complete the project.

According to www.gillioz.org: "The Gillioz Theatre was originally built and opened on October 11, 1926, by road and bridge contractor M.E. Gillioz of Monett, Missouri. The theatre entrance is located on St. Louis Street, which is also Historic Route 66. Originally designed as a transition theatre, the Gillioz possessed a pipe organ so that it could be used for both live performances and silent movies. In its early years, the Gillioz was Springfield's premier entertainment venue. In 1979, the Gillioz Theatre was forced to close when business moved from downtown to new suburban malls and strip malls. When the Springfield Landmarks Preservation Trust (SLPT) purchased the Gillioz and the adjacent Jim D. Morris Building in 1990, they were told that the theatre was built so strong that it would cost just as much to tear down as it would to preserve. Because of the material M.E. Gillioz had access to, the Gillioz Theatre is built like a bridge, with steel and concrete, using wood for only the handrails, doors, and doorframes. Though the Gillioz Theatre was originally built for $300,000, the restoration quote was around 1.9 million dollars. For sixteen years the SLPT worked with local private, public, and political entities to help fund what has now become a 10 million dollar project. The restoration was completed October 2007. Many people attending the Gillioz Theatre reopening were able to recall the first time the Gillioz opened. They remarked that the Gillioz was more splendorous than they ever remembered."

Nancy Dornan gives credit for the Gillioz project to the SLPT board which, in effect said, "We're not going to do this halfway. We're going to do the restoration and we're going to get the money to pay for it." Returning the compliment, Greene County Presiding Commissioner Dave Coonrod gives credit back to Dornan. Coonrod, the SLPT Vice President, says "Dornan encouraged the board to keep faith in the project, to not give up, and to focus on the task ahead."

Nancy Dornan, whose first restoration/preservation project was as a youth making her grandmother's dilapidated chicken coop into a play area, says those involved in such efforts "Have to have a passion, and historic preservation persistence. It's a team effort which requires a love of doing, and it's wonderful to work with people who have common cause."

The Restored beauty of the Gillioz will be seen by 3,300 patrons May 10, 11, and 12, as the 1,100 seat theater will host 3 sold out performances of the Ozark Mountain Daredvils. Dornan says she can't think of a better way to re-introduce the Gillioz to the community than with the Daredevils.

For her many years of work in preservation and restoration which includes several projects in Springfield, Nancy Dornan recently received the Elizabeth and George Rozier Award, Missouri's highest award for historic preservation. Dornan says she is honored to receive the award.

Dornan says she is making every effort to research the homes and other buildings she is restoring. Among her restoration projects is a house on Broadway which Dornan found out was owned by a Confederate soldier of the Civil War. She says "It gives you goose bumps to get a sense of history while walking up the same staircase a Confederate Soldier did. You realize we are the link of what was and what is. Houses speak to you, and you have to be able and willing to listen."

For KSMU's Sense of Community Series, I'm Mike Smith.

Links:

  • Gillioz Theater