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Diamond in the rough

So it’s Fall, 2013.  Pat and Carol Schuchard, two St Louis artists, are back from Colorado, vaguely searching for a place in which to vest their considerable energies.  They visit leafy North Union, in the West End of St Louis, and come upon, the St Louis Artists’ Guild building.  Asleep for over a decade, the building’s interior has fallen into disrepair.  But both have the eyes of the artist, and they see right away that this dusty, messy place is a treasure – a forgotten architectural gem.  For them, it rings with the echoes of bygone parties, and the shrill cries of kids from the seventies and eighties, for it became in that period, Dignity House, where children of the neighborhood would drop in after school.  And this was the place; they both knew it at once

“It was crammed with discarded furniture, sports equipment covered in dust, piled six feet high in some areas,” says Carol.  But something about the building drew them along the passage and into the Gallery.  “We could see then that this was a magical space.”  A twenty foot ceiling crowned by a skylight that was covered in black – no light seeping in.  “We knew pretty quickly that our mission was to bring light back to this place,” says Pat.  It felt to Pat and Carol almost as though they owed it to the thousands of art exhibitors and socialites of the Artists’ Guild, and to the boisterous, energetic kids of the community of Dignity House – to old St Louis, in fact – to revive this place and to offer something new:  The Boo Cat Club.

“I have the dreamer’s disease,” says Pat as he pulls out one hundred years of plaster from the wall.  Since purchasing the place it has been a mine of activity.  Piles of junk hauled away, pipes dug up, floors repointed, sanded down, polished, walls and ceilings painted, a custom designed skylight craned in to replace the old blackened one, windows refitted, fireplaces revived, kitchens and bathrooms installed, lighting enhanced.  “There was a lovely moment when we pulled a time capsule out of the wall in the Theater,’ says Carol.  In it was a program of a production and cast list from 1934.  There was also the minutes of a meeting of the old Robert Burns Society who would meet once a month upstairs.  “It made us feel as though we’re custodians of something very special.”

And now it’s almost Fall again.  In a  matter of weeks the Artists’ Guild, Dignity House, Boo Cat Club will open its doors again to the people of St Louis.  “It’s been waiting for this,” says Pat Schuchard.  “This place needs people and it’s been too long!”