There is a new energy spreading through the halls of Lake Forest’s Gorton Community Center. Less than a year after it was announced that the family of the late director John Hughes had made the lead $2 million gift in the center’s $6.5 million capital campaign, the recently renovated theater with its modern technology is ready to be enjoyed—just as the Hughes family had hoped.
“Really and truly for the amount of years we lived in Lake Forest and with John’s career in the movie industry, we always had our privacy in Lake Forest. When I learned that Gorton was renovating the theater, I thought it was a good way to thank Lake Forest,” explains John’s wife Nancy Hughes, on her first visit to Gorton since the improvements had been made.
The idea of community has been at the very core of Gorton’s successful renovation. “There would be no Gorton without this community,” says Mark Ventling, chairman of the Gorton Board. “The Hughes Family’s gift inspired an overwhelming community response to our campaign. Every day, Gorton is a reflection of our town’s choice to learn together, play together, grow together, and simply be together.” Adds Chair of the Master Plan/Renovation Project Blair Nagel, “What excites me most about the renovation is that now the space is open, bright, and welcoming. People will walk in and say ‘Wow, I can’t believe it’s the same place!’”
Gorton’s main hall opens into a stunning, light-filled reception area with an interactive media wall. The Solarium has become a four-season gathering space for events and theater receptions, complete with a stowaway bar. The Nagel Family Room has been updated as a warm, inviting living room for the community, flowing into Gorton’s stately Stuart Community Room enhanced with modern sound, lighting, and projection systems and improved acoustics to better accommodate business, social, and entertainment events.
“We’re extremely excited about the renovation and are very proud of the fresh look it gives Gorton,” says Gorton board member Kate Zenko-Rother. “We hope it will continue to bring more and more people to Gorton to either take a class, use the Drop-In Center, listen to live music, see a play, or watch a film.”
Gorton’s Executive Director Brenda Dick has been working closely with the newly formed Performing Arts Committee to help determine the programming they will be offering. “Gorton’s Performing Arts Committee will move the center into the forefront of people’s minds for performing arts and entertainment. We will provide an array of exciting, new options for the community. Our goal is to be the venue where everyone in Lake Forest and the surrounding area has been and can’t wait to come back,” says Jamee Field Kane, the committee’s chair.
While Gorton is anxious to announce its schedule of events for the coming year, they are being careful about not coming out of the gates with too much, too fast. “It’s important that we allow our programming to evolve organically—evaluating opportunities that we seek and the ones that present themselves equally,” Dick explains. “We want to make sure that we hit the right note and engage our community with performances and events that attract them.”
To this end, as Gorton’s capital campaign continues into the fall, residents inspired by Hughes will have the chance to make their mark on the heart of the community. “Gorton belongs to all of us,” lifelong resident and board member Sally Downey says. “Whenever someone celebrates a loved one with a theater seat or sponsors a visiting author or musician, it reminds me that this place is not just for our community, but by our community.”
The Performing Arts Committee is looking forward to this fall when Facets, a non-profit cinema arts organization known the world round for its international children’s film festival, will be hosting a screening at Gorton. Additionally, after the traditional tree lighting in Market Square the day after Thanksgiving, attendees will be able to walk to Gorton to watch the John Hughes’ movie Home Alone.
As Nancy Hughes stood outside the John and Nancy Hughes Theater, underneath the signage bearing her family’s name, she was moved. “Lake Forest is a great community to raise children and living here has been one of the happier times in our lives,” Hughes says. “When we found our Lake Forest home, there was no question that we wanted to live here. This is where we lived the longest. There is no other place that compares to Lake Forest.”
– By Ann Marie Scheidler // Photography by Robin Subar