You may know it better as Dole Mansion, but creative types in Crystal Lake know this park for its rich performing and visual arts opportunities. Paul Anthony Arco leads a tour of this cultural haven.
Tucked away in a residential neighborhood, with a view of the Crystal Lake waterfront, sits a 12-acre park where inspiration comes alive. It’s where people of all ages learn to paint, play musical instruments, sculpt, draw and perform. The possibilities are endless.
This is Lakeside Legacy Arts Park, on the grounds of the Dole Mansion, the former home of Charles Dole, an early member of the Chicago Board of Trade. Having passed through many hands over the years, the home today shelters an incredible variety of inspiring artists, art displays and special events, including holiday festivals.
“I refer to the Legacy Arts Park as Crystal Lake’s hidden gem,” says Siobhan Cottone, executive director of the Lakeside Legacy Foundation, a nonprofit organization that operates the Arts Park and Dole Mansion. “It amazes me how many people don’t know what we’re about, or who we are. They know of the Dole Mansion, but they don’t know what’s inside these walls. We’re a gem that needs to be polished on the outside, so everyone can see what’s going on inside. It’s an extraordinary place.”
McHenry artist Angela Swan regularly shows her work and volunteers at the park’s art shows. She attends concerts and performances throughout the year.
“It’s not every community that offers a place for residents, in their own backyard, to experience a diversity of art,” she says. “It’s a marvelous opportunity for enrichment. The Arts Park is a gathering place, a happening right here in Crystal Lake.”
In the 1860s, Dole built a three-story mansion near the lake, to reflect his business success. He lived there with his wife, three children and mother-in-law.
Dole loved to entertain on the property that he dubbed Lakeland Farm. He hosted his daughter’s wedding there, and built a spur line from the Chicago & Northwestern railway tracks toward his home. He also constructed a canopied and carpeted walkway almost from his front door to the train, so wedding guests could walk to the ceremony without worrying about the weather.
Dole lived in the mansion until the late 1890s, when he sold it for $1 to his son-in-law, who used the home as an office for his ice harvesting business.
Vacant for a few years, the property was sold in 1922 to the Lake Development Company, whose vice president was the widow of the oldest Ringling Brother. The mansion was renovated, with the addition of a huge annex, and the property became the first Crystal Lake Country Club. Its wealthy members were rocked by the 1929 stock market crash, and the club was eventually sold, the property subdivided.
The mansion remained empty for several years before it was purchased by the Franciscan Order and reopened as St. Mary’s Minor School for Boys. It closed in 1970, due to low enrollment. The First Congregational Church bought the property seven years later, using it until 2000, when members voted to put the property up for sale.
In 2002, with the historic structure just weeks from being sold to a Chicago developer, community leaders, Crystal Lake Jaycees and neighbors led a major fundraising effort to purchase and preserve the mansion. Over a period of 42 days, the community contributed $1 million so that the Lakeside Legacy Foundation, newly formed to spearhead the renovation, could purchase the property. The Dole Mansion reopened on July 4, 2005, christened as the new Lakeside Legacy Arts Park. Today, Lakeside Legacy Arts Park maintains a dual mission: restore the Dole Mansion and provide arts programs for the community.
From studios and galleries to music rooms, the Dole Mansion and its connected Lakeside building have much to offer. The Arts Park rents out 30 studios to local artists and musicians, who either operate businesses or create art in those spaces, Cottone says.
Studios are available to visual and performing artists; tenants range from painters, photographers and musical instructors to voice teachers and tutors. Rent runs from $225 to $800 a month, depending on size and location of the studio.
“Having these artists here with us has been a wonderful addition to the Arts Park,” says Cottone. “It benefits their work and business, and it has given our facility a renewed energy.”
Photographer Janet Kay opened a studio here in 2012, more than two years after launching her business, From Me 2 You Photography. Kay was inspired by the Arts Park when her daughter took an art class there.
“I felt isolated in my home office,” she says. “It’s good to be in a space where I can connect with others. I have built relationships with other artists. I use my office for quiet time, where I can focus on post-photography edit sessions, and work on smaller projects.”
For an artist, the space also provides ample inspiration. “The best part is being able to bring clients into the Dole Mansion for photo shoots,” Kay says. “It’s spectacular. It’s filled with natural light and provides vignettes for different photography jobs. I also love attending the art shows there. It’s a great way to showcase my work and meet new people.”
The Arts Park is also home to two galleries: The Sage Gallery and the Dole Gallery. Works from resident artists, nationally known artists and up-and-coming artists from the public schools’ programs are displayed here.
The Sage Gallery, in the Lakeside building, is available for special events such as the United Way kickoff campaign or church fundraisers, in addition to arts displays and performances. “We like to rent space to other nonprofits and organizations and businesses so they can have a unique space to hold their strategic planning sessions or employee recognition receptions,” says Cottone.
The new Hip Hop Explosion, hosted in the Sage Gallery, teaches dance to children between the ages of 7 and 14. The program is a partnership with Summers Academy of Dance in Crystal Lake, and instructors are student volunteers from Harper College. In less than six months, the class has grown from 25 participants to more than 70.
“This program is unique because it teaches kids to dance, but it also builds self-esteem, social skills, communication and leadership skills,” says Cottone.
The Dole Mansion’s elegant first floor includes The Dole gallery, adorned with black walnut doors, detailed wood carvings and marble fireplaces. Every month, it hosts First Fridays, an event that draws between 150 and 350 people each month. The evening includes musical entertainment and tours of the building, but its main attraction is a juried display of work by local artists.
“The art will stay up an entire month, and then a new group of artists will come in and display their work the following month,” says Cottone. “Sometimes, the artists may host an additional art show. They feature types of art from watercolors to photography.”
This massive complex is home to more than just visual and performing arts. Five years ago, a gourmet kitchen was renovated in the lower level of the Lakeside building. Now, the state-of-the-art space is home to corporate teambuilding programs and catering rentals, in addition to culinary classes for all ages, taught by a professor from McHenry County College.
“My goal is to grow our culinary programs and have our own sphere of culinary chefs, so we can hold our own classes for children wanting to learn how to make scrambled eggs, or seniors who want to know how to prepare healthy meals,” says Cottone. “Culinary art is its own art form.”
Another popular locale is the Listening Room, a special space created in 2012, thanks to Beach CITE Studios Inc., a nonprofit arts organization in Alabama that was shutting down. “Their board decided to donate its assets to other flourishing arts facilities across the country,” says Cottone. “The executive director had ties to Crystal Lake and knew of the Dole Mansion. They donated the furniture, sound equipment, lights, Steinway piano and the entire remodeling of the space. It was very generous and thoughtful.”
The room seats 100 guests comfortably and hosts about four concerts a month, such as jazz, folk, classical and bluegrass. It’s available to organizations and school groups during the day. The Listening Room also regularly hosts private events, poetry readings, book signings and even comedy shows.
“It’s almost like being in a big living room,” says Roger Reupert, Listening Room Program/House Manager. “There’s a different vibe between the performer and audience than you would find in a bar or nightclub.”
Spreading the Word
Despite the variety of programming offered at the Arts Park, many McHenry County residents are unfamiliar with the facility and all its offerings. The staff and volunteer board are working to change that.
To increase awareness, Lakeside Legacy is about to embark on rebranding efforts that could include changes to its name, colors and logo. “What I have found in my research is that the community doesn’t know who we are,” Cottone says. “Are we the Dole Mansion, or are we the Arts Park? We’ll conduct a community survey to get input from residents, which will help out with planning, as we move forward.”
Pat Coen, board president and a local attorney, says part of the confusion could stem from the initial campaign in 2002, when the foundation raised so much money in a short time. Part of the dilemma, he says, is the lack of continued public exposure.
“Everyone assumed the Dole had been saved, so we were no longer on the front pages,” he says. “Ten years ago, most of the work was done on the interior of the building, but nothing has been done since, regarding the exterior. It looks exactly like it did a decade ago. Most of the community only sees the Arts Park during our festivals. It’s really so much more, and we need to get back in front of the community.”
A renewed interest may partly come from facility improvements. “The Dole Mansion is a treasure that needs to be restored to its splendor,” Coen says. “The Lakeside building has a lot of potential as a community center. The property has the potential to hold more special events, gardening or other community activities. We have historical, educational and open-space components here that make this a truly unique facility.”
The next chapter in the Arts Park begins with Cottone, who has been executive director for nearly a year. Prior to joining the Arts Park, she worked for a private school and a human services organization. Cottone is responsible for overseeing the entire operation, managing seven full- and part-time employees, fundraising, and increasing awareness about the facility.
“I feel very blessed to be here,” she says. “Music and the arts really do touch the spirit. It’s inspiring to hear the children’s singing or violin playing echoing down the hallways, and to meet the artists who display their artwork, as they explain their thought processes and techniques that they put into their pieces. The possibilities are endless.”
Coen says Cottone’s impact is already palpable.
“Siobhan has brought a fresh perspective to us, especially with an education and social agency background,” he says. “The foundation has been erroneously viewed as a historical preservation that’s only for the arts community. Siobhan has shown the community that there are many more opportunities here with programs to enhance the property and create even more interest in what we’re doing.”
One way is through special events. The foundation, which relies heavily on sponsorships, donations and rental revenue, holds three annual fundraisers. The largest is Lakeside Fest, a five-day affair held in July. More than 50,000 people turn out to enjoy live music, food, mansion tours, exhibits and games. This year’s event netted more than $200,000.
In October, the foundation hosts a duathlon called Run & Roll for the Dole, an event for individuals or teams of one runner and one cyclist. And in December, residents can ring in the holiday season with Christmas at the Dole, a winter festival that includes food tasting, holiday shopping and family fun.
“It’s a grassroots effort,” Cottone says. “I see one person at a concert or an event who brings three friends to the next one. It’s a trickle effect. It’s just going to take time to grow.”
Cottone continues to look for ways to get more community input. She’s forming a women’s auxiliary that will help to spread the word about the Arts Park. She’s also hoping to bring on additional staff within the next year.
The board and staff continue to sift through new ideas for fundraising opportunities and other special events that could be held on the park’s sprawling grounds. “The board is amazing,” Cottone says. “I’m proud to say that we have an extraordinary and passionate board that wants to see this property remain here for the community.”
“We’re proud of the fact that the Arts Park is a sustainable facility that will continue to get better and better as time goes on,” Coen says. “It will be exciting to get the community more involved, in terms of what it’s going to look like in the next five or 10 years.”
Cottone’s passion about her new job is evident as she conducts a tour of the Arts Park, exuberantly explaining every facet of the building and her plans for making it a destination for local and regional residents.
She dreams of a parking lot filled with cars; art classes and concerts packed with people; even more aspiring artists hard at work in their studios. She’s confident it will happen.
“There’s an energy and spirit here that’s alive,” she says. “This is a special place, and I want everyone to come and experience what we have to offer. We truly are the community’s art park, a place where anyone can come and enjoy the arts.”