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$1M Gift Kickstarts Peoria Women's Club Restoration Efforts

Tim Shelley / WCBU

A $1 million dollar gift from entrepreneur Kim Blickenstaff will jumpstart the restoration of the 128-year-old Peoria Women's Club.

That's in addition to the $500,000 donation he made to the club, located at 301 NE Madison, back in 2019.

Blickenstaff said there is "a lot of positive energy" in the area of downtown some are redubbing "The Theater District," between his Scottish Rite Cathedral, the Peoria Women's Club, Obed & Isaac's, and other developments. Blickenstaff wants to utilize federal infrastructure funding to reconnect downtown to the North Valley neighborhood through his "InterPlay Park" concept, which would span Interstate 74.

Following the donation announcement, Peoria Women's Club president Kim Mitchell said they plan to get scaffolding up this fall to work on the roof, windows, and tuckpointing.

"It will allow us to not only begin the first floor restoration, but most importantly, step up into the music hall," she said.

The 425-seat music hall on the second floor of the club was once home to the Peoria Symphony Orchestra, but music hasn't echoed in the chamber for more than a half century. A 1970 fire wreaked only minor damage, but the water damage sustained during the firefighting effort was more significant.

"The building has been here, standing here since 1893, and with these restoration steps, it will be standing for hundreds of years more," Mitchell said.

Mitchell said the club hopes to complete the building restoration within five years.

The women's club music hall is the oldest remaining performing arts venue in Peoria. The Peoria Women's Club was founded in 1886 - a full 25 years before women's suffrage was enacted via the 19th Amendment's ratification.

The original members of the Peoria Women's Club, founded in 1886.
Tim Shelley / WCBU
The original members of the Peoria Women's Club, founded in 1886.

The club also boasts among its former members some of Peoria's most prominent women, including Lucie Brotherson Tyng, the first woman elected to the Peoria school board; and Julia Proctor White, the founder of the Peoria League of Women Voters. The Peoria Women's Club also started Central Illinois' first kindergarten.

The Peoria Women's Club is now working to rebuild its membership's ranks to sustain it into the next generation, Mitchell said.

"We currently have 153 members, and our goal, before the end of this year, is to be up to 200," she said.

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.