Between 1985 and 1990, the corner of Main Street and Broad Street was transformed from a run-down corner of a decaying downtown to a cultural jewel. The Peace Center served as an anchor for one of America’s celebrated urban renewal success stories.
The Peace Center is more than a performing arts venue. It is a symbol of Greenville’s vision and appetite for big challenges. Today, it is a landmark at the hub of Greenville’s celebrated downtown. But it is also a landmark in Greenville history. At a time when things were bad and could have gotten worse, the community said, “Let’s do something remarkable.”
In the early 1980s, Main Street consisted largely of empty store fronts, vacant lots, and rapidly diminishing businesses. What had been a thriving business district for decades had suffered from suburban development. Downtown seemed to be dying. Then, visionaries stepped in from both the private and public sectors.
In 1985, Mayor Bill Workman appointed a citizens’ committee to investigate building a performing arts center. The committee hired C.W. Shaver, Inc. to conduct a feasibility study. A unique public-private fundraising partnership was created for such a center. And three branches of Greenville’s Peace family kicked off a capital fund drive, pledging $10 million in memory of Roger C. Peace, B.H. Peace, Jr., and Frances Peace Graham—no strings attached.
On a six-acre site at the corner of Main and Broad Streets there were three deteriorating buildings—a factory building where wagons had been produced for the Confederate army (the Coach Factory), a textile plant built in the 1880s (Huguenot Mill), and a former mayonnaise factory (now known as Wyche Pavilion). This became the site of The Peace Center for the Performing Arts.
The Peace Center was designed by Craig, Gaulden, and Davis, a local architectural firm, with the input of nationally-recognized acoustician, Larry Kirkegaard and theatrical design firm, Jerit/Boys.
To preserve Greenville's heritage, the historic Coach Factory and C.F. Sauer (Duke's Mayonnaise), and Huguenot Mill buildings were purchased, restored, and incorporated into the complex.
The initiative began to gain momentum in the community. In 1989, Dorothy Hipp Gunter, an advocate of the arts, pledged $3 million for the 400-seat theatre which bears her name. Mrs. Gunter also made a separate donation to purchase one of two Steinway pianos for the two halls.
As the momentum grew, excitement spread all over the community. One great example is the “88 Keys Campaign: 88 cents for 88 keys in 1988,” in which donations were made by thousands of school children (88 cents apiece) to purchase the second Steinway. The Peace Center was truly a community project!
In November 1990, the five-year effort culminated with a weekend gala celebrating the completion of complex.
Two years later, in November of 1992, The Peace Center launched a $6,500,000 Endowment Campaign, to help ensure the ongoing operation of this community landmark. In less than two years the goal was realized.