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FAHI raising funds to turn ex-S&L into cultural center
Curtis Millner, president of the Fayette Area Historical Initiative’s (FAHI’s) Board of Directors, stands in the front lobby of the former Imperial Savings & Loan building at 211 Fayette St. The board is working to create a museum and cultural center in the building. (Bulletin photos by Mike Wray)
A little imagination — and a lot of fundraising — will go a long way toward creating a museum and cultural center in the former Imperial Savings & Loan Association building.
“The counter here will have to come out,” said Curtis Millner, president of the Fayette Area Historical Initiative’s (FAHI’s) Board of Directors, as he motioned toward a counter in the front lobby of the building at 211 Fayette St. The counter was used by tellers during the association’s banking days.
FAHI bought the building last year to house its African American Museum and Cultural Center, which now is in a building on Main Street.
The organization is raising funds for operating expenses and to pay for renovations and updates to bring the building up to current code and make it handicapped accessible, Millner said.
FAHI’s members and board members are using a variety of fundraising efforts, including a play titled “God’s Trombone.” Performances are scheduled April 27 and 28 at Albert Harris Elementary School.
Tickets are $15 in advance and $17 at the door for adults and $5 in advance and $6 at the door for children 12 and younger. Advance tickets are for sale at FAHI and Holland Tax Service.
Concessions will be available during intermission, with proceeds of those sales also marked for FAHI.
Contributions also are being sought. Those who contribute $1,000 or more will be considered “A-List” donors, while those contributing $100 to $999 will be “patron donors, Millner said. Donations are tax-deductible, he added.
The organization hopes to raise enough money to pay for changes to the building, an amount that will become clear once plans are received from an architect/engineer, Millner said.
“They have looked at the building but are not ready to present” the improvement plan yet, Millner said.
FAHI discussed moving into the new facility before renovations are complete, but Millner said the lack of accessibility for people with physical challenges, combined with vandalism, delayed the move.
“Someone came in and took out the sinks” from rest rooms, moved the sinks into the basement and broke them, Millner said. “That happened before we bought the building” last year, he said.
At that time, Millner estimated that about half of the $35,000 cost of the building was paid using donations from residents and institutions. A promissory note used to finance the rest.
“We had anticipated moving in June, but we don’t think that’s realistic,” he said this week. “It’s all really dependent on receiving funds” needed for the project.
According to the current vision, the lobby area will be used as a general display room for items that chronicle the history of Henry County and Martinsville.
Millner, a Henry County School Board member, said part of the lobby and a smaller room behind the counter will be home to “a complete history of our schools” from news clippings.
“That should be of interest for new teachers and administrators. ... They can find out from whence they came,” he said while meandering through the empty building to a vault room that houses a large safe.
Millner said a local locksmith plans to take the safe for practice work. FAHI can use the vault to secure items if needed.
Nearby, a wall in a large room will be partially demolished to make an inside entrance into a room that now is accessible only from the outside, he said. Historical displays also will be arranged in the large room, with displays from other areas shown in another room, Millner said.
“We hope to bring in displays from other museums” from sources that may include the Smithsonian African American Museum, a museum in Wytheville and possibly others, Millner said.
FAHI staff and groups such as the NAACP and Voter League likely will use a small conference room that is accessible without going through the main building, he said. That room also will work for groups planning class reunions and “other small group meetings,” Millner said.
Larger groups can meet in a larger room in the basement, Millner said. Part of that room will be used for storage as well. FAHI plans to give away or donate desks, chairs and some other items currently stored there, he added.
“This was a beauty salon,” Millner recalled when entering yet another room. “I can remember bringing mother here in the late ’50s, early ’60s” to have her hair done.
A security system throughout the building is intact, and structural damage is minimal — gutters removed from one portion outside led to sheetrock damage inside, and when vandals struck, a door was broken out, he said. It now is boarded up and will have to be replaced.
Parking is available behind the building, and Millner hopes the parking lots of nearby churches can be used for special events, if needed.
FAHI has plenty of artifacts to fill the interior, including many now in storage due limited space in the current facility, he said.
When the move is complete, items that include a Paradise Inn sign will be repaired and showcased, Millner said. The sign was synonymous with Martinsville and in the 1940s and ’50s, he said.
“You could go anywhere” and tell anyone “you were from Martinsville, and the first things people remembered were the Paradise Inn and the June German Ball,” Millner said.
The balls were social events that brought big-name entertainers to the community.
Back in the current lobby area, Millner looked out a window in the direction of the Baldwin Block in honor of the late physician and businessman Dana Baldwin. The New College Institute (NCI) recently announced plans to construct a building on the site.
That will have a positive impact on the community, Millner said, and added the new FAHI building “will be right in eyesight” of NCI after a building on the corner of Fayette and Spencer streets is demolished.
He also hopes the proximity to NCI will help FAHI’s goal of finding grant funds to redo the outside of the building to fit with NCI’s facade.
Millner said there have been some discussions that the owners of an adjacent building may donate it to FAHI as well.
To help with the project, contact any FAHI board member, call 732-3496 or visit the museum at 40 W. Main St. Hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays and other times by appointment.