50 years old: Norton Center added to National Register of Historic Places

Published 5:00 pm Friday, May 17, 2024

The Norton Center for the Arts, marking the end of its illustrious 50th season, held a grand “Farewell to 50” party on May 9. The highlight of the event was the prestigious plaque dedication. A testament to its rich history, the Norton Center was officially added to the National Register of Historic Places.

“We embarked on this season with a vision, and what better way to conclude it than with a plaque dedication and a soul-stirring concert,” said Norton Center Executive Director Steven Hoffman. “It has been a year of incredible moments, from reviving shows that defined each decade to introducing a plethora of new ones. We’ve had countless opportunities to celebrate and showcase how this building has been a steadfast pillar in Centre and Boyle County’s cultural landscape.”

The event was further enriched by a unique display of guitars, each crafted from the wood of “The General,” a revered tree on Centre’s campus. This tree, over 150 years old, was felled in 2021 due to its deteriorating health, but its legacy lives on in these one-of-a-kind musical instruments.

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“It was just time for the tree to come down,” Hoffman said. “The wood was saved and repurposed into these beautiful guitars, one of which is dedicated to the Norton Center.”

Although details are still under wraps about the next season at the center, Hoffman hopes more information will soon be available.

“While we’re still finalizing some details, we’re making great strides,” Hoffman shared. “We’re proud to be a cornerstone of this vibrant community, attracting people to live, play, and bolster our local economy.”

The Norton Center for the Arts was first constructed in 1972 and attracts more than 50,000 visitors annually. Throughout its history, it has hosted international acts such as ZZ Top, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, and Dolly Parton. It also hosted the Vice Presidential Debates of the 2000 and 2012 presidential elections.

The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of historic places in the country that are worthy of preservation. The list has houses, buildings, structures and objects that are significant in history, architecture, engineering and culture.

With such a storied history, the Norton Center was added to the national historical registry as soon as it was eligible, as the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 requires property to be 50 years old before eligibility.

“This designation is an honor, as it recognizes places that enrich lives and make a community unique,” Hoffman said. “We are proud of our building’s cultural and historical significance and how it continues transforming lives. We hope this recognition helps reinforce an appreciation in current and future generations of Central Kentuckians for this special place.”

In order to qualify for the registry, a property must also be significant in relation to major historical events or trends in the history of their community, state, or the nation. A property must also possess historic integrity and the ability to convey its significance.

The Norton Center for the Arts was among the first of its kind in the whole region. The venue could feature performances and shows that venues in Lexington and Louisville couldn’t. At the time, neither city had venues capable of hosting the same types of shows as the Norton Center, until years down the road when they built their own performing arts venues.

The center was designed by Architect William Wesley Peters, who was trained by world-famous Architect Frank Lloyd Wright. It uses Wright’s signature “organic architecture,” which strives to create buildings that flow with their surrounding environment.

Peters worked with Wright for more than 25 years on many of his famous projects. His Wright-inspired architectural elements can be seen throughout the center, including repeated hexagonal shapes, creative use of natural light, bold colors, angled ceilings, and intimate acoustics.

Extensive efforts have been made to preserve the building’s architectural integrity throughout its history. Features such as door handles, Tivoli chandeliers, carpet color, hexagonal light recesses, and other decorative details remain the same as when the building was first constructed.