Exploring the Arts: The History and Evolution of Central Park Place

Central Park Place has been a staple in the Grand Haven community for over 50 years! As a central hub for visitors, families, and organizations, Central Park Place is a shared space for creativity, curiosity, and connection. It also has a rich history connecting many local individuals and organizations throughout the years. 

Background

The history of Central Park Place starts with the Loutit Foundation. William R. and Catherine Loutit founded the Loutit Foundation to provide grants to health, education, and community welfare organizations. The Loutits amassed an estate from both William’s father and grandfather. His grandfather, Captain William R. Loutit, was one of Grand Haven’s early settlers and founder of Grand Haven’s life-saving station in 1871, a precursor to the U.S. Life Saving Service and Coast Guard. 

Since the 1960s, the Loutit Foundation has helped to fund many major community projects, including the development of the Grand Haven Community Center (now Central Park Place), the boardwalk along Grand River, the creation of Bicentennial Park, the Musical Fountain (originally the world’s largest musical fountain), and Loutit Library. The Foundation also provided grants to the Tri-Cities Family YMCA and North Ottawa Community Hospital and played a significant role in forming the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation (GHACF) in 1971. The Loutit Foundation officially merged with GHACF in 2011 to better serve Grand Haven and the surrounding community. 

History of Central Park Place 

Central Park Place, formerly the Grand Haven Community Center, originated in 1966 with a property gift from the Loutit Foundation. Using donations and matched funds from the Foundation, building construction commenced soon after. The Tri-Cities Historical Society organized the first event at Central Park Place on June 22, 1967, and a dedication ceremony followed on September 16, 1967. 

Bernie Boyink became Central Park Place’s first director, receiving a national award for developing the facility as a cultural center for the Grand Haven community. Boyink also served on the Musical Fountain committee in 1962 and helped to build Grand Haven’s iconic 50-foot anchor on Dewey Hill in 1964. 

Conceived as a space to host community meetings and clubs, Central Park Place initially held events for organizations such as the Tri-Cities Garden Club, Lakeland Artists, and the Grand Haven Woman’s Club. The Tri-Cities Garden Club was founded in 1957 and hosted many meetings, and annual flower shows at Central Park Place before moving their events to Spring Lake District Library. The Lakeland Artists, formed in 1958, still host annual art shows at Central Park Place! They recently showcased various watercolor, acrylic, pastel, and line-etched works in the Atrium Gallery this past March (2023). Established in 1891, The Woman’s Club held its monthly meetings at Central Park Place until its dissolution in 2015. Their organization had been involved with many community projects, including the 1901 transformation of Grand Haven’s former municipal cemetery into today’s Central Park.

Central Park Place Evolves  

Over the years, Central Park Place evolved to include a large variety of events and meetings, including union meetings, wedding receptions, coin shows, expos and art shows, high school banquets and proms, Rotary meetings, business training seminars, candidate forums, community activism, and celebrations of life.  

In 2007, the building underwent a $4.2 million renovation and expansion, which included improved ADA access, outdoor terrace space, and a new space for the North Ottawa County Council on Aging. The city signed a long-term lease with NOCCOA, ending in 2012. 

In 2009, the Acacia Auditorium was remodeled with state-of-the-art performance equipment, and the city added a LiveRoof in 2011 to improve the building’s energy efficiency and provide additional green space. Muskegon Community College, another long-term tenant at Central Park Place, held classes in the building from January 2012 through May of 2019. 

Central Park Place Today 

Today, Central Park Place hosts various events, including art shows, summer camps and classes, weddings, and productions by the Central Park Players. Organized as the Grand Haven Civic Theatre in 1959, the Central Park Players began performing at Central Park Place in 1966. The volunteer-run nonprofit organization produces four shows yearly and recently announced its 65th season!   

In 2022, the center undertook a large-scale rebranding effort to better focus the building as a desirable rental space and center for culture and the arts. With the help of Leverage Marketing, the Grand Haven Community Center was renamed Central Park Place. In addition to rebranding efforts, the team developed a new website, social media profiles, and marketing materials. 

Central Park Place also became home to Encounter the Arts in 2022, a free annual event celebrating Grand Haven’s vibrant arts community through family-friendly workshops and performances. At the event, local artists lead various classes and demonstrations for people of all ages. Encounter the Arts is an open house-style event, so everyone in the community can come and go as they please! Central Park Place is partnering with Loutit Library to bring the Manhattan Short Film Festival to Encounter the Arts as a special event finale this year. Sign up for our newsletter to be the first to know when new details are available.

From its roots as a Loutit Foundation property gift to the unique, community-focused gathering space it is today, Central Park Place is proud to promote local artists and inspire creativity throughout Grand Haven. Learn more about our mission, upcoming events, and facility today! 

 

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