These wonderful renderings of the Schaumburg Prairie Center for the Arts were recently discovered on a 1983 calendar prepared by the First Bank of Schaumburg.
The drawings were created by architects, LaRocca Associates of Chicago, in anticipation of construction of the Prairie Center. It had been many years in the making and was soon to come to fruition.
Two years later, on March 13, 1985, the invitation for bids went out to the public. Final approval had been given for a building that would contain a 429-seat theater, ticket office and conference rooms, as well as an outdoor plaza. The location would be just east of the Municipal Center on Summit Drive at a planned cost of $2.2 million. The project was paid for through a special endowment of funds collected over the years from developers.
Not surprisingly, there had been earlier suggestions for an even larger venue. As far back as 1968, former Mayor Robert Atcher had originally planned a 500-seat drama theater and a 900-seat concert hall. Scott Fisher, who was the chairman of the Cultural Commission in 1983, favored a 750-seat hall but the price was too high. And, interestingly, prior consideration had also been given to a proposed site near Woodfield Mall.
The bid for the scaled down project in 1985 was eventually awarded to International Contractors of Elmhurst and building commenced in May of that year.
During the course of construction, consideration was given to who would be the director of the Cultural Center. By July, Village President Herbert Aigner suggested that the village board opt for former President Bob Atcher as the ideal candidate. “His heart is in this. He’s in the entertainment field. He’s got contacts with major business people and a tremendous reputation.” (Daily Herald, 7/17/1985) After giving it some thought, the 71-year-old President Atcher turned down the job, concerned that the time necessary to devote to the job was more than he was comfortable with.
In October the village hired Elizabeth Armistead, former program coordinator for the Hemmen’s Auditorium in Elgin. Going forward, her duties were to manage the Center, be involved in the construction process of the building, establish a group of part-time workers to assist her in day-to-day operations and seek out entertainment for the venue. To this day, Ms. Armistead continues in her role, even as that role has expanded to include oversight of Septemberfest, the Prairie Arts Festival, the village’s cable channels and the Volunteer of the Year Awards program.
On June 14, 1986, a little over a year after the project had begun, grand opening ceremonies were held. The stars of the show were former Schaumburg Village President Robert Atcher and his wife Maggie and their three children. Having long desired such a facility for the village, the Atcher family returned their gratitude with a country and western concert to the an appreciative audience of nearly 200 people.
Kudos were also extended to William Lambert who originally donated some 40 acres of land to the village as the future site of the municipal center and cultural center. He was given the honor of cutting the ribbon that stretched from end to end across the new stage.
Twenty years later, during the 50th anniversary year of the Village of Schaumburg, the theater at the Prairie Center was officially dedicated to Maggie Atcher who helped form the first cultural arts commission in Schaumburg. It was a fitting bookend to the building next door, the Robert O. Atcher Municipal Center.
Today the Prairie Center continues to offer itself as a lineup for entertainment, a venue for local orchestras and choirs and a patio for the festivals held on the municipal center grounds. Even if you haven’t been there for an attraction, you may just want to stroll the grounds. The walking paths are an enticement to return again!
Local History Librarian
Schaumburg Township District Library