By Janet Goetze
For the Hollywood Star News
A 1924 Masonic building is being transformed into the Cerimon House, a space for the arts and humanities, plus a gathering place for weddings, seminars and dinners with thoughtful conversation.
Randall Stuart, an actor, director and teacher who has worked from Seattle to San Francisco since the 1980s, started thinking about such a place more than 20 years ago while traveling up and down Interstate 5.
About five years ago, he gathered colleagues who were interested in his idea and formed a non-profit corporation. A couple of years ago he approached the group and said, “Let’s all dress up like adults and look at available church properties.”
They were seriously considering a couple of old churches, the only venues they expected to provide the spaces they needed. Then someone suggested looking at the Alberta Masonic Lodge, 5131 N.E. 23rd Ave. at Sumner Street, a block north of Alberta Street in the blossoming arts district.
The Masons owned the 8,000-square-foot building until the 1980s. Then a church congregation worshiped there until the early 2000s.
The non-profit board arranged for financing to buy the building, now known as the Cerimon House for a character in Shakespeare’s “Pericles, Prince of Tyre.” Cerimon was a nobleman and healer of ancient Greece who revived a young woman once thought dead, then reunited her with her family.
A line from the play, Stuart said, seems appropriate for Cerimon House: “It is the creative spark within you that will bring light and warmth into this house.”
The Cerimon House mission includes four elements: community, creativity, curiosity and ceremony. The mission statement says Cerimon House is a place for the community to convene and share in activities. The creativity of cultural arts “provide nourishment to feed the mind of a nation.”
Curiosity encompasses the educational potential of classes and seminars for children and adults. Ceremony offers opportunities for “threshold moments,” including weddings and other celebrations.
Over the past year, Cerimon House has presented a range of programs.
These included play readings, musical events, dinners with conversations on a specific topic and the launch of an art book by Portland’s Pomegranate Publishing, accompanied by a video program on painters and their works.
Now the programming has been suspended until early summer for the first phase of rehabilitating the building with $325,000 from arts-supporting investors who expect a modest, long-range return, said Sharon Nielson, the board treasurer. Plans developed with Oh Planning + Design Architecture include four handicap-accessible rest rooms to replace two small ones, a bicycle shelter, an enlarged entry area, new paint in warm earth tones, repaired stucco and a new heating, ventilating and air conditioning system.
In addition to Cerimon programming, the first phase will make the building usable for other arts groups who can rent space for rehearsals, workshops and other activities, Nielson said. Later work, expected to cost up to $150,000, will include reconfiguring some upstairs spaces, finishing meeting and dressing rooms and completing office spaces.
The Cerimon House undertaking is ambitious, even for an area that bills itself as an arts district. However, the supporters seem undaunted by the tasks ahead.
Bob Hicks, a former arts writer for The Oregonian, said Portland’s downtown arts centers aren’t the only places where creativity can thrive.
“It became clear that neighborhoods need places that are cheaper than the Performing Arts Center, closer than the Performing Arts Center and where people can afford to take a lot more chances,” said Hicks.
Laura Grimes, who worked with Hicks on the artists and paintings video program, said, “It’s taking art to the people. Having a safe place to be creative, you need a place where it’s okay to fail or to grow or to test and get feedback or adapt.”
Kathie Olsen, a Cerimon Creative Council member, called the venue “a rare and brave and potentially powerful resource for the arts that flourish in our state.”
Will Patton, a board member whose mother was an actress and father was head of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland for 50 years, said the performances and readings he attended at Cerimon drew him to support its endeavors.
“As the world becomes more virtually connected yet physically detached, I think it’s increasingly important to have places where people can connect and interact peacefully and thoughtfully in the physical realm,” Patton said.