For decades, Converse College Life Trustee Kurt Zimmerli and his wife, Nelly, have generously provided leadership and financial support for the arts at Converse College and in the Spartanburg community. Now, it is their moment to finally take center stage as they champion the campaign to renovate a world-class performance hall that is near to their hearts.
On Saturday, Feb. 16, Converse bestowed the name Zimmerli Performance Center on the facility that houses Twichell Auditorium. Twichell Auditorium has long been hailed as one of the South’s leading performance venues. A $3.5 million fundraising campaign is underway to provide the first major renovations to the facility in 30 years. It will also provide for Twichell’s continued maintenance and enable its award-winning arts education programs. The Zimmerlis made a lead gift towards the campaign, which has raised $2.85 million to date. On Saturday evening, they were surrounded by friends who join them in supporting Twichell’s renovation, and who toasted their contributions to Converse and to Spartanburg as Zimmerli Performance Center was unveiled.
“Preserving Twichell is essential to providing an accessible, functional and beautiful setting for the events of many different Spartanburg community organizations, and especially for our Converse School of the Arts.” – Krista Newkirk
“Each of us has gathered here to thank you for believing in the transformative power of the performing arts, and for stepping forward once again to ensure Twichell Auditorium continues to impact audiences far and wide as one of the South’s most iconic performance venues,” President Krista Newkirk said to the Zimmerlis during the unveiling reception. “Preserving Twichell is essential to providing an accessible, functional and beautiful setting for the events of many different Spartanburg community organizations, and especially for our Converse School of the Arts…Kurt and Nelly, we honor your leadership and vision as we fulfill your dream of ensuring that Twichell Auditorium remains a showcase for world-class performances. I cannot imagine Converse College – or Spartanburg – without your love and care.”
Twichell Auditorium has long been known as a place where outstanding performers take the stage, and for providing cultural experiences for students and the greater Spartanburg community. Named as an historic John Philip Sousa site to commemorate the many performances given by Sousa and his band in the early twentieth century, the auditorium has hosted such famed artists as Tony Bennett, Chet Atkins, George Burns, Duke Ellington, Burl Ives, Itzhak Perlman, Yo Yo Ma, and Marilyn Horne. Since opening its doors in 1898, Twichell has been renowned for its exceptional acoustics and has hosted some of the region’s most celebrated events.
The 1,500-seat auditorium, which houses a 57-rank Casavant Freres organ with more than 2,700 pipes, serves over 20,000 individuals each year, with more than 10,500 patrons purchasing tickets for performances. The renovation project will provide for new technology, including LED lighting systems and digital audio, along with greater accessibility and refined amenities for patrons that will preserve Twichell as an outstanding venue where Spartanburg can gather as a community to celebrate the transformative power of the performing arts. Enhancements will include:
- Improved ADA access with additional ADA parking, installation of automatic door operators, a two-stop interior lift, accessible restrooms and auditorium seating;
- State-of-the-art audio/video system, speakers, amplifiers, digital console, stage monitors, intercom, and projector;
- Revitalization of interior space with renovated bathrooms, refinished flooring, new windows and new carpet;
- Improved climate control with new HVAC system and electrical work;
- Restored and new theatrical and orchestra LED lighting;
- Stage improvements with new curtains, orchestra pit, stage floor, and stage rigging;
- New roof and exterior façade
The new stage curtains and rigging are already in place, and upgrades to lighting and sound will begin soon. Twichell will be closed from mid-July through the beginning of October for the larger construction projects.
President Newkirk thanked McMillan Pazdan Smith and Harper Construction for their partnership on the project. During the reception, Dr. Douglas Weeks, Babcock Professor of Piano and a longtime friend of the Zimmerlis, performed a special tribute to the couple. Afterward, guests moved to the Twichell lawn to hear Converse Life Trustee and former Spartanburg Mayor Bill Barnet share personal reflections on the Zimmerli’s contributions to our greater community and to the College. “It is important that we not only honor the history of this place – of Twichell and of Converse – but that we also recognize the contribution that have made to our lives, and to the arts and to culture,” Barnet said. “Kurt and Nelly entered the United States with very little resources. They moved from the Northeast to Spartanburg, SC and the built a family and a remarkable business. They created a very special understanding and appreciation for the arts and for culture, and they created an enormous impact on what you and I share today – not only in this place but in many other aspects of our community. Just think for a moment across the space that is Spartanburg – of the entrance to the library and the sculpture that is there. Of the wonderful fountain that was created at their behest to honor their friend Hans Balmer at the Spartanburg Community College campus downtown, or the amphitheater in the middle of our community that bears their name. They have done so much for our lives and its appropriate, I think, that we spend a moment in appreciation for what they have done. Kurt has been a Trustee of this institution since the early 1980s and in 2004 he became a Life Trustee…It is important to recognize that there is not one building that I know of on this campus that his patience, skill, love for the campus, quality of engineering, and his ability to incorporate great taste into a building are not present. He is a project engineer but he is more than that, and he has given his life to making this campus – as he has to Spartanburg – something very special.”
Finally, the new lettering atop the facility was unveiled as President Newkirk officially introduced Zimmerli Performance Center. Guests moved into Twichell to hear the Spartanburg Philharmonic Orchestra perform Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. Before the concert began, Spartanburg Philharmonic Orchestra Board Chair Rachel Deems recognized the Zimmerlis and celebrated the upcoming Twichell renovation, announcing a new partnership between Converse and the Philharmonic that secures Twichell Auditorium as the orchestra’s home for the next three years.
About Kurt and Nelly Zimmerli
The Zimmerli’s commitment to Converse College began with their love of music and their commitment to Spartanburg. Kurt began his first term on the Converse Board of Trustees in 1983 and today is a Life Trustee. He served for several years as chair of the Finance Committee and of the Buildings and Grounds Committee, enthusiastically providing dedicated service to the fulfillment of the College’s mission, to its financial health, and to its physical plant and appearance. Under Kurt’s guidance, Converse designed and implemented a comprehensive campus master plan that focused on creating an attractive and welcoming environment. As Buildings and Grounds Committee chair, he collaborated with Converse faculty, administrators, and students; worked with architects; negotiated with building contractors; and oversaw the design and construction of Phifer Science Hall, Milliken Fine Arts Building, and the Weisiger Center at the Sally Abney Rose Physical Activity Complex. Together, through their philanthropy, the Zimmerlis enabled progress in the Petrie School of Music by providing endowed scholarships for students, endowed funding for instrument repairs, gifts for Steinway pianos that led to Converse becoming the first women’s college to achieve All-Steinway School designation, and numerous gifts supporting facility improvements, performances and events. As proud parents of a Converse graduate, the Zimmerlis have invested themselves fully in the life and success of Converse.