Lakeland's 35th Anniversary 1978-2003
In 1977 founder Mark E. Taylor, and other investors secured an option on building and land (l5.5 acres) of the former Littleton High School, located at 411 Mosby Avenue, Littleton, North Carolina. The Lakeland Cultural Arts Center Board of Directors was established in 1978 and its first formal action was to name Mark E. Taylor the center's Executive Director and to name the theater in his honor.
From 1978 through 1982 a limited number of stage performances were held at the center using the old school auditorium and stage.
In 1981 the State of North Carolina allocated $25,000 for the renovation of the building, and in 1982 the Lakeland Cultural Arts Center applied for a mortgage on the facility with a $40,000 down payment. In 1983 the center paid the balance on the mortgage plus the $40,000 borrowed for down payment.
Lakeland continued to grow under Mark's steady hand until his sickness and eventual death in 1990. His sickness and death left a void that resulted in a down turn for the theater's productions and financial status. In 1991 Bob Haltenhoff was appointed to an unexpired term of one of the directors and named Chairman of the Board of Directors. Haltenhoff, who had helped establish a Small Business Incubator and new town library, brought his business knowledge and experience to the board and soon money was raised for the difficult task of repairing various areas of the building that had been let go for so many years. He and the Board of Directors were also faced with the leadership and technical gap created by Mark E. Taylor's sickness and death. After trying to find a replacement for Taylor it was decided to leave the technical end to a committee. This Production Committee would have complete say in the production end and would direct the shows. These dedicated people, such as Ruth Morgan, Cheryl Sebrell, Douglas Wright and many others held Lakeland together through many years. Over the years we have lost many good friends as age eventually takes us all. The current Production Committee is a mix of veteran and new faces with fresh young directors being groomed all the time..
In 1997 a dramatic change took place when Wally Hurst was contacted to fill the open position of Managing Director. Wally, who was raised in Warrenton, NC but at the time lived in California, had left a resume with Lakeland several years earlier. Hurst brought with him a wealth of knowledge. He not only was an attorney and lobbyist in the state of California but he also had been active in theater at Duke University and various community theaters in California. His theater background filled the void left open since Taylor's death. With Wally's involvement, also came the involvement of his lovely wife (and director) Maria and for over 14 years, the Hurst team carried Lakeland through both good and bad times.
The Lakeland Cultural Arts Center made great strides in correcting the numerous problems inherent in old buildings such as leaks, sagging floors, termite damage, etc. With these problems behind us emphasis has been directed toward improving the comfort of our audience and the quality of our productions. Some of the major accomplishments have been in improving sound by adding new components to our sound system, but also by improving the theater acoustics. A new ceiling was installed, walls were refinished, an orchestra pit was added, and the sound and light booths were consolidated. Perhaps the greatest visible improvements were to the seating and the stage, as depicted in the pictures on the right.
In 2011, due to the strain of the down turned economy and the continuing needs of an aging facility, the Board of Directors made the difficult decision to once again return to being a Volunteer-Run Theatre. Under extreme financial burden and with increasing age of the buildings, a plea was sent out to the community to help or to lose this integral part of the community. Over the coming months, hundreds of local volunteers took to the task. The grounds were refreshed. The public areas of the facility were refurbished. In the summer of 2012 a new 75 seat Cabaret Theatre was added to the facility. Then in the spring of 2013, the main theatre underwent a transformation including chairs, floors, walls, ceiling, lighting, sound systems, curtains, and much more. The renovation is estimated at a value of over $100,000 with over 6,000 hours of labor but due to volunteers and donations, Lakeland's investment was about $15,000. The renewed interest and decreased expenditures reversed the debt load and once again put Lakeland in a positive cash position. Going into the 35th season, Lakeland was debt free with cash in the bank, a new small venue, a newly renovated larger venue and renewed interest in the community. The simple elegance of this theater reflects the style and grace of its founder and stands as a tribute to Mark E. Taylor. . . visionary, pioneer, and guiding star.
It was Taylor's unwavering dedication to his dream of converting the abandoned Littleton High School Building into a hub of cultural activity which led to the ultimate success of this quixotic venture. It was he who saw the potential for establishing an arts center behind those deteriorating walls, beneath the leaking roof, and down the dust-choked hallways. Mark - we are continuing your dream.