About St. Cecilia Music Center

St. Cecilia Music Center is the only organization of its kind in West Michigan. Established in 1883 as St. Cecilia Society by 9 Grand Rapids’ women determined to “promote the study and appreciation of music in all its branches.” The organization was named for the legendary patron saint of music. In 1883, the year of St. Cecilia’s founding, Grand Rapids was the nation’s Furniture City, home to some of the largest furniture factories in the world and renowned for the distinguished craftsmanship and design of its signature product. The heyday of the furniture industry produced an era of affluence that made it possible for many Grand Rapids women to turn their talents and energies to the development of arts and cultural organizations. During St. Cecilia’s earliest days, members met in each other’s homes and performed for one another. It wasn’t long before they were bringing internationally renowned musical artists to the city to perform for the general public and raising the funds needed to build suitable quarters for their musical activities. Over the years, succeeding generations of St. Cecilia donors have continued to carry on the tradition that the founders established so many years ago. St. Cecilia Music Center enjoys the distinction of being the “mother of the arts” in Grand Rapids. Many of the city’s most prominent arts organizations trace their roots to programs that originated at St. Cecilia including the Grand Rapids Symphony, Opera Grand Rapids and Civic Theater.

SCMC Today
There is something for everyone at St. Cecilia Music Center, where a broad range of affordable and accessible music education and performance programs spans the seasons and the generations. Over the years St. Cecilia has brought some of the world’s finest artists to perform on its Royce Auditorium stage and has introduced young and old alike to the joys of listening to and making music. Through an impressive and ever-expanding variety of programming, as well as collaborations with many other arts organizations, St. Cecilia Music Center has enriched the lives and touched the hearts of countless area residents of all ages, backgrounds, musical tastes and talents, giving the priceless gift of music through education and performance to the community it has served since 1883.

Building History
In 1890, after several years of moving from place to place to accommodate the growing number of members, the leaders of St. Cecilia Society took steps toward the dream of its own building with the purchase of a lot on Sheldon Avenue. But a zoning conflict forced the sale of the land, and the dream was put on hold. Two years later, St. Cecilia purchased the current property at 24 Ransom NE and commissioned Henry Ives Cobb, the prominent Chicago architect, to design a “simple and dignified” temple of music.

Work on the new building began immediately, and St. Cecilia members mounted an ambitious fundraising effort. Teams of members designed and sold calendars, cookbooks, and a souvenir silver spoon produced by Herkner Jewelers. They sold chicken and oyster dinners to the general public, staged performances in the old Powers Opera House and produced a special edition of the Grand Rapids Evening Press. The new building was completed by the spring of 1894 at a total cost, including furnishings, of $53,000.

The St. Cecilia building was dedicated in November of 1894 and was the only building in the world built by women solely for the study, appreciation and performance of music.

The beautiful Tiffany window was added the following year. Following the classical style, the facade was divided into three parts. The base was made of sandstone, the middle section was brick and at the top where a cornice and terra cotta frieze graced with plump cherubs heralding the building’s purpose with their trumpets. The interior featured the Library (today’s Idema Room) with cleverly built-in storage for music, and the Reception Room (today called the Wege Recital Hall), each with its own lovely fireplace and mantel and huge, arched windows looking out on Ransom Avenue.

The soul of the building was the auditorium, with more than 500 main-floor seats, intricately looped and gathered draperies over the proscenium arch, graceful chandeliers and a skylight made up of a series of 16 stained glass panels which, when lit by the sun, bathed the space in a golden glow. Windows in the upstairs ballroom opened out into the auditorium to accommodate balcony seating. Over the years, the building has undergone many repairs and renovations.

Major repairs in 1901 reinforced the roof beams. Renovations in 1925 eliminated a troublesome auditory “ghost” by removing the skylight, closing off the balcony and taking down two massive pillars located in the middle of the auditorium. These changes were extremely successful. To this day, the auditorium is considered an acoustical gem, one of the finest recital halls in this country or abroad.

In 1974, St. Cecilia embarked upon the first phase of a series of major improvements that included modernizing the heating and electrical systems and remodeling the auditorium, which was later named for the Royce family, major benefactors of the organization.

A decade later, community support through the Second Century campaign funded significant upgrades that included making the building and the stage barrier free. In 1996, the Opus 2 capital campaign was launched to restore, maintain and preserve the building for generations to come. With completion of that project in 1998, the building was in fine shape as it headed toward the new century.

The St. Cecilia Music Center building has weathered the ravages of time, the Great Depression and the threat of demolition to make way for downtown urban renewal. Its place today in the cultural life of the region is truly a testament to the long history of support and commitment that it has received from generations of members and music lovers throughout the West Michigan community.

Click here to download a Building Tour booklet.