The right place: Community Music School plays new tune at Allentown’s former Lehigh Valley Club
It’s the perfect location.
Raub Middle School and Allen High School are within walking distance. Nearby is Allentown Public Library and the city’s West Park. It’s right across the street from the Scottish Rite Cathedral. And it’s hard to beat two acres of free parking.
The new home of Community Music School of the Lehigh Valley (CMS) in a renovated historic mansion at 1544 Hamilton St. is everything CMS officials could have dreamed of.
The new facility on the south side of Hamilton Street, between 15th and 17 streets, has twice the space for more programs, its own spacious recital hall and an eclectic parent’s lounge with parquet floor and lots of mirrors, guarded by imposing greyhound statues.
“We’re very happy,” says Jeff Reed, director of CMS. “We think we’re in the right place.”
The school is starting 2019 in its new home after moving from the second floor of Miller Symphony Hall to the 1906 Tudor-Revival mansion.
“We wanted an inspiring place and we got it,” says Lisa Hopstock, assistant director of CMS. “This building is the icing on the cake.”
Reed says CMS was started in 1982 by four piano teachers who wanted to do something for Allentown’s urban youth. They opened the first school in the former Christian Education Building (now Treatment Trends, Inc. Halfway Home of the LV), then owned by at St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church along South Fifth Street, with seven teachers and 38 students.
In 2004, CMS moved to the Fowler Education Wing on the second floor of Miller Symphony Hall, expanding over the years to offer lessons in satellite locations at Penn State Lehigh Valley, Center Valley; Moravian Academy, Bethlehem, and Goggleworks Center for the Arts, Reading.
In 2017, CMS celebrated 35 years and with more than 30 instructors and more than 300 students. The CMS board of directors embarked on strategic planning initiative.
Reed says CMS continues to follow its mission to provide classes for urban youth, but also looked at access and convenience.
“It’s important because studies have shown that students who study music are more likely to graduate high school,” Reed says.
He says parking in the vicinity of Miller Symphony Hall had become increasingly difficult.
“We were spending $11,000 for parking just for the staff,” Reed says. “We felt that money could be better used. And parking here is free.”
He says the school was “really lucky” that CMS new facility, site of the former Lehigh Valley Club, went on the market in 2016. The school entered into a long-term lease purchase agreement, with an eye to make it the school’s permanent home.
The building is rich with city history.
It was built in 1906 as the home of industrialist Charles F. Mosser along what became known as Allentown’s Millionaires’ Row.
Max Hess Jr., owner of Hess’s department store, bought the mansion in 1936 and moved in the Lehigh Valley Club, then a Masonic organization. The club was very popular in its day with 8,000 members during the 1950s and 1960s.
Reed says that the lounge, known as the Azure Room, was built in 1952 and decorated by Valerian Rebar, a New York decorator who had designed President Franklin Roosevelt’s yacht.
When the Lehigh Valley Club closed in 1992, the Scottish Rite Cathedral bought the building it and rented it out to various tenants, but the historic building was neglected, according to Reed.
When CMS started renovations, officials discovered vestiges of the building’s former glory such as birds-eye maple flooring underneath ratty carpeting.
Reed says he and CMS officials wanted to preserve things like the Azure Room with its parquet flooring, blue-patterned wall paper, Art Deco mirrored glass, built-in seating and iconic Hess’s-inspired greyhound dog statues.
Other touches of the building’s former life that have been retained include pocket doors, copious mirrors in the recital hall, an Art Deco clock and Masonic symbols such as obelisks and stars.
The building’s huge commercial kitchen was redone to create 12 music studios in different sizes to accommodate everything from two grand pianos to trombones to double basses.
The original dumb waiter became storage and a small section of the kitchen was made into an employee break room.
The huge meeting hall, which seats 150 people, is perfect for student recitals. There’s a free Brown Bag Lecture-Recital, noon Feb 14, and a free Faculty-Student Recital, 2 p.m. Feb 24.
The cloak room at the front of the building has been converted into a light-filled front office space. Even the carport-like overhang outside works well for parents dropping off students with instruments in inclement weather.
A display wall of musical instruments will bring CMS’ “petting zoo” into the building, Hopstock says.
The larger space has allowed the school to expand its programming, adding more private lessons, programs for adults as well as a Kindermusik program for the youngest children, which is held in a cozy room with lots of light streaming in the windows.
“Wednesday mornings are very exciting with our kids corner,” says Hopstock. “This was exactly what we needed. It’s home-like and comfortable.”
She says the Azure Room has become a “great place” for parents to wait with Wi-Fi, a changing station, family restrooms and lots of personality.
Hopstock and Reed are thrilled with the new space and feel it will help CMS continue to grow and serve the community.
“We don’t ever want to move again,” Reed says.
Information: cmslv.org; 619-435-7725