March 20, 2017 | Malcolm Johnstone
West Chester PA — Community leaders came together to cut the ribbon and officially launch the Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center at 226 North High Street in downtown West Chester. Managed by the Uptown! Entertainment Alliance, the theater will promote cultural, economic, and civic life experiences in the Brandywine Valley through live theater, music, dance, film and private events.
Development of the theater began in February 2013 as a community initiated development when the historic West Chester National Guard began efforts to relocate making the armory available. With the help of two local legislators, Pennsylvania State Senator Andrew Dinniman and Pennsylvania State Representative Dan Truitt, Uptown! Entertainment Alliance secured an agreement from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to transform the grand old armory into a multi-use theater with three performance venues, including a 327-seat main stage.
The historic West Chester National Guard Armory, called the Major John C. Groff Memorial Armory, was designed by Philip H. Johnson of Philadelphia (1868-1933) and built in 1916. It housed the National Guard’s Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 111th Infantry and 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, which traces its lineage directly to Benjamin Franklin, who formed the unit in 1747 to protect the Colonies in the French and Indian War. This unit of soldiers has represented the United States in nearly every war since then and is the most decorated unit in our armed forces.
Today, the armory structure has been re-purposed as a performing arts center while preserving an important part of local and national history. It has become a cultural hub for individuals and families and is within walking distance to West Chester’s bustling boutiques and restaurants. Underserved age and income groups are also served through age and culturally sensitive programming.
In October 2016, thanks to a generous contribution from Chris and Beth Knauer, the new theater was named The Knauer Performing Arts Center in honor of Chris Knauer’s grandmother Lena and his parents, David and Nancy Knauer, who all loved West Chester, music and the arts.
The 10,000 square foot structure, with its barrel-vaulted ceiling and state-of-the-art sound and light systems, offers the perfect venue for theatrical performances and has become a home for at least nine theater companies.
Finally, as a demonstration of the quality of presentations offered by the theater, the first full run of a professionally produced musical is the Resident Theatre Company’s production of Monty Python’s Spamalot, performed by New York City and Philadelphia actors, March 31 – April 16, 2017.
Information acquired from UptownWestChester.org.