BAYarts celebrates 75th anniversary with history exhibit
BAYarts has achieved a significant milestone in the history of its organization. They are celebrating 75 years of providing creative arts programming to Northeast Ohio. To recognize this impressive achievement, BAYarts is hosting a history retrospective of the organization in the Sally J. Otto Gallery of the Huntington Playhouse. The show will open at Moondance, BAYarts’ annual fundraiser, and run through the end of the year.
Baycrafters had its early beginnings in the spring of 1948 when a group of 10 Bay Village ladies were seeking an outlet for their creativity. Many of the original group liked crafts but couldn’t get to classes in Cleveland because of transportation or babysitting issues.
So they decided to form their own organization. In the beginning, they met in members' houses to work on projects. Later, they wanted others to know about their gathering and decided to hold an art show.
Baycrafters' "First Show" was held in the Bay Community House on June 4 and 5 of 1948. The show featured watercolor and oil paintings, jewelry, pottery, weaving and needlework, hats, and woodwork. Junior exhibits created by the Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Cubs, and local high school students were also included. They expected approximately 50 contributors and received over 200 entries.
The First Show was a big success in the community and later inspired the creation of the non-profit arts organization called Baycrafters.
Originally, Baycrafters was housed in two rooms in the basement of the Rose Hill Museum (at that time the Village of Bay Library). For years, officers of Baycrafters searched for a permanent location. The group even considered a barn on the Lawrence estate (where Cashelmara is now located), among other buildings.
It wasn’t until 1962 that Baycrafters established a permanent home. They learned that the Bay Village Nickel Plate Station was closing. The Victorian-era train station, built in 1882 and located at the Dover Center Road crossing (near the present-day CVS in Bay), serviced local and long-distance travelers.
The Travelers Official Guild from 1893 showed eight passenger trains a day stopping at the station in Dover (the original name of Bay Village). Trains headed eastbound from this stop to Cleveland, Conneaut, and Buffalo, and westbound to Fort Wayne and Chicago. Many summer travelers stopped in Bay Village for idyllic fishing and bathing at the beach. Local businessmen caught the train to Cleveland and returned the same day.
As automobiles became popular, travel by rail decreased and the station became obsolete. Through the 1940s, the station remained in use to receive freight shipments but was eventually closed.
The decommissioned station was donated to the rapidly growing Baycrafters by the New York, Chicago, and St. Louis Railroad Company for $1. The Cleveland Metropolitan Park District invited Baycrafters to move the station house to the Huntington Reservation. The railway station was loaded on a flatbed truck and moved to its current location in the park.
The Huntington House
By the late ‘60s, Baycrafters had outgrown the space in the tiny station house and was looking to expand. The adjacent Huntington House became available and was the perfect solution for the growing arts organization.
According to the Cuyahoga County Auditor’s records, the classic bungalow-style structure was built somewhere between 1900 and 1904. It is believed that the house was added to the estate after the untimely death of John Huntington, and was used as the caretaker's residence for Huntington Family Farms, owned by Huntington’s second wife, Mariett Leek Huntington.
The Metropolitan Park District purchased the Huntington estate in 1925 and originally leased the caretaker’s house to local families. The park later offered the lease the building to Baycrafters in 1968. The Gallery House, as it became known, started a new life as Baycrafters’ main gallery and was also used for classrooms and administrative offices, with a fully functioning ceramics studio in the basement.
Even before the Station House was moved to the park, trains played a prominent role in the history of the Huntington Reservation. For many years, the Lake Shore Electric Railway cut across the Huntington property on its path from Cleveland to Toledo. Large concrete supports for the trestle that spanned Porter Creek are still visible behind the BAYarts campus.
So it was no surprise when the leadership of Baycrafters accepted a donation of an authentic 1949 caboose from the Norfolk and Western Railway in 1969. The caboose came complete with original fixtures, a bed, and a bath. Baycrafters used the caboose for displays, demonstrations, and small events.
The Fuller House
Baycrafters and BAYarts have had a long history of taking on big projects. But none have been so monumental as the iconic Fuller House Sail. The Fuller House was built in 1892 and originally sat on a high bluff above Lake Erie on the eastern end of Bay Village.
The Queen Anne-style home was a wedding gift to Irene Lawrence Fuller from her father, industrialist, Washington H. Lawrence, who made his fortune as president of the National Carbon Company (now Union Carbide).
Years later, in 1948, Dr. Richard Sheppard of the Cleveland Osteopathic Association purchased the Lawrence mansion. The group moved from Cleveland to Bay Village and renovated the Lawrence mansion into Bay View Hospital, an 85-bed facility.
The Irene Lawrence Fuller House became the residence of Dr. Richard Sheppard and his wife. Shortly thereafter, Dr. Richard’s son, Dr. Sam Sheppard, returned from California with his new wife, Marilyn, to join his father and brothers at Bay View Hospital.
In the early morning of July 4, 1954, Marilyn Sheppard was murdered in the bedroom of their Bay Village home located on Lake Road a few miles west of the hospital and the saga of the infamous murder case began. On Aug. 2, Dr. Sam Sheppard was arrested for the murder of his wife on the front porch of his parent’s home – the Fuller House.
Bay View Hospital closed its doors in 1981 and developer Bob Corna purchased the hospital and surrounding property to create a condominium community named Cashelmara. Soon after the sale, the Fuller House was set to be demolished to make room for the new development. Baycrafters led a community effort to save the structure and move it to their campus.
Corna agreed to donate the house to Baycrafters and helped to coordinate the move. On Aug. 29, 1984, the 120-ton Fuller House was transported by barge on Lake Erie from the Lawrence estate on the east end of Bay to the Huntington Reservation.
The three- and one-half-mile journey saw the house floated on the lake, brought up through the Bay Boat Club, loaded on a flatbed truck, and slowly transported down Lake Road to the park – an unconventional move that drew international attention.
The structure was then installed on a new foundation on the Baycrafters campus, where the house sat vacant for many years while fundraising efforts were underway.
Baycrafters becomes BAYarts
New management in 2006 brought a fresh, creative vibe to the campus. Baycrafters was rebranded as BAYarts and fundraising efforts began anew to bring much-needed renovations to the now-famous (and infamous) Fuller House.
In 2008, BAYarts was awarded a grant from the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission (OFCC) for the renovation. That grant, combined with financial assistance from the Cleveland Metroparks and funds raised through a capital campaign, enabled BAYarts to begin construction in April 2009. The renovated building opened to the public in October 2010.
The Fuller House is now the centerpiece of the BAYarts campus. The Victorian gem has found a new purpose and is brimming with life. The building is home to classrooms, office space, and the esteemed Sullivan Family Gallery. Outside, the wraparound porch and surrounding gardens welcome patrons and visitors alike.
Expansion of the organization continues. BAYarts added a 2,500-square-foot state-of-the-art ceramics studio to the back of the Huntington House in 2015.
More recently, BAYarts assumed the lease on the Huntington Playhouse on the east end of its campus and is renovating the building in phases through contributions from generous donors and additional OFCC grant money.
Phase one was completed in January 2019 and included new electrical and fire safety systems along with renovations to the restrooms and hearth room.
Phase two is planned to begin this fall and will include the transformation of the theater and stage areas into a multi-use space to accommodate a wider range of cultural performances including concerts, movies, plays, speakers, music recitals, and more. When completed, this phase will also address the exterior of the building.
A capital campaign continues to renoate other areas of the building.
Now, with over 65,000 visitors each year, BAYarts has become a premier west-side cultural destination. Come celebrate this historic milestone with us at Moondance on Sept. 9, or stop by for a visit this fall. Go to www.bayarts.net for more information.
Director of Operations at BAYarts