1975 may not seem like long ago, but in that year the “database” of founding members was handwritten in careful script in a thin red journal. The $5 entry after the name attests that each made a commitment to the future of arts and culture in Lee County.
Each could see that Lee County needed an Arts Alliance. Cultured citizens were making diverse efforts to teach art, sponsor recitals, and produce theater, but what about an umbrella to cover those in need of recognition, publicity, marketing and a venue where it could all happen?
A field of gladiolus had covered the acres south of Colonial Boulevard and Royal Palms lined McGregor Boulevard on antique postcards circulated throughout the world. At this intersection the eleven-acre site of the old Schultz farmhouse was chosen for the Alliance.
Fort Myers attorney Charles B. Edwards, architect William R. Frizzell and other local businessmen donated the land to the federal Bicentennial Commission in 1976. They planned to use a Bicentennial grant to pay for construction of the arts center, but the Bicentennial Commission was dissolved in 1978, before any progress was made toward building the arts center. Because the Commission could no longer hold title to the property, Edward and the others transferred the land to Lee County.
One of the first seminars instructed cultural organizations on applying for grant money. All-arts festivals were staged in downtown Fort Myers. An “Arts Blitz” went to the schools. A first cultural directory and events calendar were published. In 1980, the Foulds Foundation awarded $50,000 for the support of arts in Lee County. Classes, arts and crafts shows, concerts and recitals found thousands of participants. Volunteers refurbished vintage homes into designer showcases.
By 1983, “Arts group cooped up at farmhouse dreams of campus-like expansion”, said the headlines. Renovations were made and an outdoor stage was constructed. A donated condemned house was moved to the grounds and became the home of the Southwest Florida Historical Society.
Construction funds from the State of Florida department of Cultural Affairs were awarded in the amount of $400,000 in 1987, and by October 1990, the Alliance had about $900,000 from the state, $168,000 from the Foulds Foundation, plus smaller donations for a total of about $1.1 million. After expending $1.2 million, the facility was completed and the Alliance was debt free. The modern facility was 12,100 square feet, with five classrooms, a library, a gallery, an inside theatre and outdoor stage.
More than 2,000 visitors and 125 craftsmen visited the brand-new William R. Frizzell Cultural Centre and Claiborne and Ned Foulds Theatre in March 1992. Summer Arts Camp was in its third year. The old Schultz Farmhouse continued to be used, housing music and instrumental classes.
In June 1995, the seventy-three year old Schultz Farmhouse was demolished because of the prohibitive expense of bringing it to required building code levels. The same year Lee County exchanged 200 feet of land for the Midpoint Bridge project for one of the Florida style buildings from the Key West Professional Center. In April 1996, the Key West building was dedicated to Charles B. Edwards for his early vision of the Alliance. In May 1998, the outdoor stage was renovated, funded through a donation by the widow of William R. Frizzell, and renamed in her honor the “Margaret Morrow Frizzell Amphitheatre”.