North Central College’s Pfeiffer Hall and Wentz Concert Hall and Fine Arts Center are fine and performing arts gems of both the 20th and 21st centuries.
Into the 1920s, the largest gathering spaces on campus were the auditorium on the middle floors of Old Main and the seminary chapel. President Edward Rall (1916-1946) wanted a space large enough to accommodate the entire College community for chapel services and other events and performances. Contributions from the Evangelical Church and a campus and town pledge drive raised more than $50,000, and substantial gifts from G.A. Pfeiffer and Henry and Annie Merner Pfeiffer assured construction of a new hall.
The Barbara Pfeiffer Memorial Hall was dedicated April 16, 1926. Costing $205,000, it was the largest performance theater in Illinois west of Chicago upon completion.
In addition to becoming the home for the School of Music, Pfeiffer Hall also hosted many speakers over the years, including Robert Frost, Martin Luther King Jr., Henry Kissinger and Barack Obama. Pfeiffer also was the stage for numerous productions such as “Guys and Dolls,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “The Pirates of Penzance,” “The Phantom of the Opera,” “West Side Story” and many more.
Pfeiffer Hall houses a 1,150-seat theatre with main floor and balcony seating, practice rooms and faculty offices. It was renovated in 1967 with support from donors Ben ’12 and Bess ’12 Kiekhofer and again in 1989 from donor Judy G. Stevenson.
Early in Harold R. Wilde’s tenure as president (1991-present) at North Central College, Wilde set a goal to build a 21st century Pfeiffer Hall to serve the College and community. In 2003, Dr. Myron Wentz ’63 provided a lead gift in excess of $10 million to launch construction of a concert hall and fine arts center.
Ground was broken in 2006 on properties at 221 and 231 S. Ellsworth St., purchased during the 1990s and made possible by a gift from Gus ’48 and Connie ’50 Schoenherr. Trustees led a local fundraising campaign and with a $1 million challenge grant from the Kresge Foundation, donors raised enough money to fully fund the building.
After 18 months of construction, the Wentz Concert Hall and Fine Arts Center opened in September 2008. The Fine Arts Center expanded the theater and music departments substantially, with the Wentz Concert Hall (photo, left, 2008), Schoenherr Gallery, box office, numerous practice and classrooms and Madden Theater.
Madden Theatre, which seats 150, was named to honor Bartley and Maricela ’99 Madden who supported the Fine Arts Center and donated their home, the A.A. Smith House, to the College. Wentz Concert Hall, which seats 605 and has been recognized for its outstanding acoustics and praised by numerous artists, was named to honor the generosity of Dr. Wentz.