In the early 1920s, Adolph and Elisabeth Winters, recent German 'migr's, hired a little-known San Francisco architect, Albert W. Cornelius, to design a center for ballroom dancing, concerts, and the occasional boxing match, in downtown Richmond, California. The Beaux-Arts structure became known as the Winters Building and, over the years, housed retail space and a bank. But by 1973, when the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts took up residence in part of the building, much of it had fallen into disrepair: Its roofs leaked, its ceilings were low, and the first level's stalwart concrete face gave it the look of a bunker. Add to that a town that had lost much of its population after World War II and was plagued by drug-related crime, and the setting was grim.
Enter Jordan Simmons, who, since 1985, has been the center's artistic director and its effusive champion. In 2005, Simmons commissioned Mark Cavagnero Associates Architects, of San Francisco, to complete an $8.3 million rehabilitation of the old Winters Building, a 16,000-square-foot, reinforced-concrete-and-heavy-timber structure. In conjunction with a campaign to revitalize downtown Richmond, spearheaded by the city, funds became available from public, private, and corporate sources to pay for the renovation. 'The original mission was not just about access to quality arts education, but also about creating a vehicle for social change,' says Simmons. 'The challenge for Mark was taking a narrow, long building and making it work for the program.'