With its quaint shopping district, elegant lakefront homes, and small-town traditions, Winnetka is often described by residents as a real-life Mayberry—an idyllic, 150-year-old village seemingly frozen in time and impervious to change.
But nowhere is that notion less true than at Winnetka’s 108-year-old Community House, where a year-long revitalization initiative is underway to reenergize, modernize, and deliver this historic village icon triumphantly into the 21st Century.
“Our goal is to stay vital and culturally relevant,” says Bob Thomas, Community House Winnetka’s President and CEO. “We are no longer looking inward. We’re looking outward.”
On March 18, during an all-day Open House and Spring Registration Rally, the newly re-christened Community House Winnetka will unveil its comprehensive rebrand and enhanced website, as well as a bold new offering of programs and classes.
Members of the North Shore community are invited to celebrate the nonprofit’s “grand reveal” with a full schedule of family-friendly activities set to take place at Community House Winnetka between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m.
“While families register for their new spring courses, they can also enjoy all day free access to the fitness center, free dance and exercise classes, a scavenger hunt, and a garden-inspired arts and crafts table,” says Thomas.
Founded in 1911, Community House Winnetka is one of only seven non-tax supported, privately funded, community houses left in the United States.
Built on land gifted to the Village by the Winnetka Congregational Church, the original Com- munity House facility remained relatively unchanged as generations of Winnetkans grew up attending Community House ballet, karate, and dog obedience classes as well as annual dance and children’s theater productions in the 364-seat Matz Hall—the largest theater on the North Shore.
For years, the historic landmark Community House has served as home base for a long list of local
nonprofits, including The North Shore Art League,The Winnetka Youth Organization, and the Junior League of Evanston. But as times changed, long-time Winnetka residents were eager to see this neighborhood resource evolve and embrace the outside world.
“As someone who has lived in Winnetka for nearly 25 years, I’m delighted to see this historic buildinginfused with more energy and programs that illustrate our values of inclusiveness and friendship,”says Leslie Farmer, former president of Community House Winnetka’s board of governors.
In addition to new external signage reflecting Community House Winnetka’s new name and logo, visitors can expect noticeable changes to the building’s interior—including bright, color-coded banners, walls, and marketing materials.
“Now, as someone navigates the building, they’ll be able to get a sense of all the different types of programming going on here,” explains Thomas.
This spring, Community House Winnetka will offer new theater classes taught by professionals from the Actors Training Center in Wilmette and Chicago’s Second City. Instructors from Oakton Community College in Skokie will teach classes in English as a Second Language (ESL).
Community House Fitness Center—the only full-service gym in Winnetka— will now feature aPeloton training bike and indoor running track.
With its nearly three acres of land, Community House Winnetka is now the headquarters of the popular Winnetka Music festival, an annual, three-day outdoor event featuring performances by the top emerging rock artists in the country.
Much-needed capital improvements have also been made to the century-old building, including repairs to its historic garden arches, a new roof, landscaping, and sidewalks, as well as the addition of
energy-saving LED lights throughout the facility.
Staff members even launched their own composting program.
“This isn’t just about changing an identity or logo,” adds Mike Nicholson, a Chicago-based creative consultant working closely with Community House about changing a culture. We want to make this a place of unity and belonging.”
For more information about changes at Community House Winnetka, visit winnetkacommunityhouse.org.