When you see or hear the words, Reichhold Center for the Arts, what comes to mind? Perhaps it’s singing, dancing, acting; the relaxing sounds of a beautiful symphony; and a good night out with friends and family? This 41-year-old amphitheater located on the grounds of the University of the Virgin Islands, our “Alma Mater by the Sea,” across from the pristine and crystal-clear waters of John Brewers Bay, is known by many as all of those things and more.
Today the performing arts center is undergoing a major renovation project to restore it to its former glory following significant damage caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017.
The Reichhold Center for the Arts was named after the late Henry Reichhold, a businessman and philanthropist who loved the U.S. Virgin Islands and strongly supported higher education. He made donations towards the development of the College of the Virgin Islands, now known as the University of the Virgin Islands. In 1976, Henry Reichhold contributed $3.5 million dollars to finance the cost of the construction of The Reichhold Center for the Arts. Since its opening, the performing arts center has fulfilled its mission to “enrich the cultural and social life of the people of the Virgin Islands” and serve as the hosting venue that brings world renowned performers to the Virgin Islands shores.
The center’s very first performances included: American jazz pianists Count Basie with his Orchestra, the Puerto Rico Symphony, and French actor and mime artist Marcel Marceau. Over the years, Reichhold became known as the Virgin Islands premier performing arts venue bringing top performers within the music industry to the territory. Artists like Ray Charles, Celia Cruz, Nancy Wilson, Fantasia, Nancy Wilson, Fred Hammond, Kirk Franklin, and Jeffery Osbourne, performed on the Reichhold stage, an opportunity that many people only witnessed on television.
In addition to those performances, productions like Starfest became a territory wide favorite. Starfest was introduced by David Edgecombe (playwright, professor, and former Reichhold director) for the purpose of showcasing the talents and skills of locals within the community. Artists like Rock City and Pressure Buss Pipe got their start at Reichhold. Performers of Starfest went through a seven-month preparation period of long rehearsals and trainings with choreographers, vocal coaches, and musicians to enhance the quality of their performance. “We would move into the Reichhold Center the week of the performance and we would be working 24/7 for that week,” said Denise Humphrey, director of Reichhold.
Humphrey started out at Reichhold as a stage manager for the Reichhold Repertory Company, then later on became a set designer for “Coming Home to Roost;”a play written by David Edgecombe. Although preparation for the Starfest productions presented many challenges, “the reward for us was the audience’s applause,” said Humphrey. “Once you heard the audience and that applause, you know you did something great. Being able to create something and having it successfully executed, proved that the seven months of hard work paid off in the end.”
The community came out in large numbers showing positive support over the years. Men, women, and children dressed up in their Sunday best, filled 1,100 seats within the amphitheater showing great excitement for the many shows and performances. “It was a gathering of the community,” said David Edgecombe. “It was almost like a fellowship.” The business community also showed its support through sponsorship. Notable, longstanding sponsors included Marriott Frenchman’s Reef, FirstBank, International Capital Management Company, the Virgin Islands Lottery, Virgin Islands Council on the Arts, Addie Ottley and WSTA Radio; “The People’s Station”, and VIYA, formerly known as Innovative. In addition to performances and productions Reichhold also introduced programs like the Reichhold Repertory Company and partnered with the Virgin Islands Council for the Arts to expose students to theater, stage production, lighting and sound operations, and any and everything related to the performing arts.
However, in 2017, all activities came to an abrupt halt as Hurricanes Irma and Maria swept through the Virgin Islands leaving the Reichhold Center and many other community facilities completely destroyed. The two category five storms caused permanent and extensive water and structural damage to the roof, the stage, lighting and sound systems, offices, dressing rooms, restrooms and seating sections. The total devastation, sent a wave of emotions throughout the community.
“I cried, I cried, I cried,” said Humphrey. “In 2017, we had just launched our 39th season and there were a lot of great things in store for that year.”
“The center will be even better than before. We’re making sure that it will last for many generations to come.”
“Everything that we had hoped for came to a crashing halt,” added Humphrey. Corrine Lindquist-Daniel, one of Reichhold’s longest serving employees, also described how she felt. “I was devastated,” said Daniel. “I’ve seen damages before that we could recover from, but this one was just devastating. When I first got to go there and saw the damages, I just cried because I knew we had lost something special.”
The Road to Recovery
Now on the road to recovery, Reichhold began reconstruction in July beginning with the unique roof structure. The roof was originally constructed out of wood, cooper, limestone, steel, and concrete and was designed to amplify sound to a listening audience and evenly distribute it throughout all areas of the seating section. “We had to make sure that the modern materials that are being utilized to replace the roof can actually replicate those properties,” said Humphrey. New additions to the center will include a new stage floor, modern digital equipment, lighting and audio equipment, and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant seating. “We are modifying and updating the dressing rooms, kitchen, and offices,” said Humphrey.” The lower level lobby of the center will be remodeled and made multi-functional to include an art gallery, a reception hall, and a small performance space. “Borrowing from our past, we plan to bring back some in-house production favorites like Starfest, the Reichhold Center’s Repertory Company, and new programs geared towards teaching technology in the arts for students,” added Humphrey. The center is slated to reopen in 2021. “There are going to be a lot of positive changes and the center will be even better than before. We’re making sure that it will last for many generations to come.”