Hoyt Sherman Place looks back at 100 years of entertainment, plans to celebrate big in 2023

Rusty Johnson tells his story during the Des Moines Storytellers Project's "Generosity" show at Hoyt Sherman Place in Des Moines.
Rusty Johnson tells his story during the Des Moines Storytellers Project's "Generosity" show at Hoyt Sherman Place in Des Moines.
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From upcoming appearances by Amy Grant and Three Dog Night, to recent appearances by the indie artists the Indigo Girls and The Cult, fans may have noticed an abundance of performances in celebration of Hoyt Sherman Place's 100th anniversary.

It will be the biggest celebration of a century of entertainment.

“We’re doing it in conjunction with our fiscal year," said Robert Warren, the executive director at Hoyt Sherman Place. "So July 1 was the kick off with Jazz in July and within that 12-month period ending June 30… we’re going to have 100 signature events.”

The venue's current curators have already programmed a variety of events in celebration of a century of art, performances and more.

Though Hoyt Sherman Place is currently run by the Hoyt Sherman Place Foundation, much of its history before the 21st century was spent under the stewardship of the Des Moines Women's Club.

Here are some of the memorable moments that have occurred over the course of the past 10 decades.

The Des Moines Women's Club leases the building for $1 a year

In 1907, at the price of just $1 per year for the next 100 years, the Des Moines Women's Club rented Hoyt Sherman Place from the City of Des Moines, though the Women's Club didn't end up keeping the contract for the full century.

“In the ’80s and ’90s when the women’s club was struggling to maintain membership, the (Hoyt Sherman Place Foundation) was formed," Warren said. "So in 1995, the city canceled that lease and put all of the care and protection of the whole facility on the back of the foundation.”

During its time renting Hoyt Sherman Place, the Women's Club used the facility to host meetings, live touring performances and appearances from nationally notable speakers such as disability rights advocate and lecturer Helen Keller, actor Vincent Price and a pre-"The Music Man" Meredith Willson.

Though this technically predates the construction of the theater, which began in 1922, it was the Des Moines Women's Club that chose to build the theater in the first place.

"They had finalized the plan… and the day after they signed it in 1917, the United States entered World War I and they knew they wouldn’t be able to have materials and labor since the draft was starting up," Warren said.

After World War I wound down, construction of the theater began again, finally hosting its first event in January 1923.

More:The Des Moines Storytellers Project is back in 2023 at Hoyt Sherman Place

The first show to be performed at Hoyt Sherman Place? 'The Book of Job'

Robert Warren, the executive director at Hoyt Sherman Place.
Robert Warren, the executive director at Hoyt Sherman Place.

In the beginning, there was Job.

"It was reviewed in the Des Moines Register," Warren said. "The reporter at the time talked about the show for about three sentences and everything else was about how beautiful the clubhouse is, the auditorium. Which was great because it gave us a nice historic reference. That's how we know Jan. 21 was the official opening."

In the Sunday, Jan. 21, 1923, edition of the Register, this Stuart Walker adaptation of the Old Testament story "The Book of Job," was noted as "one of the most remarkable pieces of Bible dramatization in all time."

The review goes on to say that the arrival of the show on that upcoming Wednesday evening would mark the first time residents got to experience "the new and lavish theater at Hoyt Sherman Place." It notes that the 1,500 seats were on par with the Princess — another Des Moines theater of the time — and describes the stage and the auditorium as "surpassingly beautiful and complete."

More:19 central Iowa holiday events take over every December day leading to Christmas Eve

The origin of the 'Hoyt Sherman' name, the site of the city's first public gallery

Patsy Shors tells her story during the Des Moines Storytellers Project's "Generosity" show at Hoyt Sherman Place in Des Moines.
Patsy Shors tells her story during the Des Moines Storytellers Project's "Generosity" show at Hoyt Sherman Place in Des Moines.

Both Hoyt Sherman Place and the Sherman Hill neighborhood are named for Hoyt Sherman, the first postmaster of Des Moines.

Sherman completed his mansion in 1877 and, four years after his death in 1904, the Des Moines Women's Club built a gallery next to the mansion as part of a $10,000 expansion at the time.

In 1907, Hoyt Sherman Place became the city's first public art museum and auditorium, a venue that housed speaking events and performances before the theater's completion. Hoyt Sherman Place held its first exhibition in 1909 and it became an annual event that continues today.

The gallery remains open to the public free of charge Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Having outlasted other live performance venues of the time like the Princess Theater, formerly at 314 Fourth St., and the KRNT Theater, departed from 10th and Pleasant streets, and predating the Des Moines Civic Center and the Des Moines Playhouse's current building, Hoyt Sherman Place's physical theater is likely the longest continuously operating performance venue in Des Moines.

Marjoe, 'the world's youngest evangelist,' visited Des Moines

Marjoe Gortner may not be a name familiar to readers today, but in 1948 the 4-year-old was billed as "the world's youngest evangelist" and drew 1,000 people to Hoyt Sherman Place for his sermon.

Years later, Gortner was the subject of the Oscar-winning documentary "Marjoe," which detailed how — since his childhood days of preaching — Gortner had ceased to believe in traditional Christianity. In the film, he describes his parents' abuse.

In 1977, Gortner returned to central Iowa to participate in a telethon for the Variety Club of Iowa. He spoke with Register religion reporter William Simbro at Adventureland Theater.

"My most vivid memory is of my mother with pad and pencil telling me what to say," Gortner said, according to the March 27, 1977, edition of the Register. "It was all show business."

Following the release of the documentary, Gortner performed on film and television into the 1990s.

More:Fun things to do in Des Moines this winter: From kid-friendly entertainment to great food

Louis Armstrong played at Hoyt Sherman before being invited to Salisbury House

Back on May 6, 1949, Louis Armstrong and his all-stars played Hoyt Sherman Place. Armstrong played a number of shows in Iowa back in the day and was no stranger to the area.

The particular show left a legacy that doesn't relate as much to Hoyt Sherman Place as it does to the Salisbury House, a Des Moines mansion constructed by cosmetics magnate Carl Weeks.

According to local legend, and recounted by the Salisbury House website in a 2014 blog post, Armstrong was invited to the Salisbury House by Evert “Hud” Weeks following that Hoyt Sherman Place performance. (Some have speculated that this invitation came in part because hotels in the area may not have been welcoming to Black patrons at the time.)

Since then, the Salisbury House has hosted a number of birthday celebrations for Satchmo.

The museum once found a piece of art worth upwards of $4 million in its attic

Warren, Hoyt Sherman's executive director, hasn't just found Hoyt Sherman Place money by helping to shift how programming happens at the venue. He also once found a painting worth millions gathering dust in the venue's storage space.

In 2016, Warren found "Apollo and Venus" while going through one of the Hoyt Sherman Place storerooms. The painting is a 16th-century work of art created by Dutch painter Otto van Veen.

“Underneath the table, I look to the right and all I see is the bottom half of the painting, which is basically (a) backside,” Warren told the Register in 2018. “After the presentation for ‘Great Day Iowa,’ I was going to put it back in the corner … there were a lot of cracks in it. It had water damage on it.”

According to DSM Magazine, “Apollo and Venus” was gifted to the Des Moines Women’s Club in 1952 by the heirs of Nason Bartholomew Collins, a local businessman known for charitable work in Iowa and his home state New York.

The painting was restored by Barry Bauman, a former associate conservator of paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago, who's conserved dozens of other paintings for Hoyt Sherman Place.

The Hoyt Sherman gallery's been the home of other noteworthy art pieces including "To the Memory of Cole" by Frederic Edwin Church, which was auctioned in 1999 for more than $4 million, helping to support the venue.

More:A discovery worth millions was made in the Hoyt Sherman attic

Jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis announced his retirement during a show Hoyt Sherman Place

Recording artist and show host Ramsey Lewis warms up before a taping of the "Legends of Jazz with Ramsey Lewis," on Nov. 16, 2005, in WTTW's studio in Chicago.
Recording artist and show host Ramsey Lewis warms up before a taping of the "Legends of Jazz with Ramsey Lewis," on Nov. 16, 2005, in WTTW's studio in Chicago.

Jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis, who died this past September, played his final show at Hoyt Sherman Place.

Over the course of 87 years, the Chicago-born musician accumulated three Grammy Awards for his work. Some of his most noteworthy records include "Sun Goddess," "Wade in the Water" and "Hang on Sloopy."

Lewis' decision came somewhat spur of the moment during his 2018 tour soon after a Chicago show. After flights and driving, Lewis looked at the long line of shows he still had in front of him and decided to cancel most of his remaining performance dates and retire from the road.

"He was here with Ann Hampton Callaway through Civic Music and wasn’t feeling well and made an announcement to the audience… ‘This is my swan song,’”’ Warren said. “There were two other concerts after that and he canceled them and made that his official final performance.”

The Ramsey Lewis Trio released its debut studio album in 1956 with "Ramsey Lewis & His Gentlemen of Jazz." An album of Beatles covers performed by Lewis titled, "The Beatles Songbook" was released posthumously in September.

Though Lewis did go on to perform again — and even at the time his wife only considered him "99% retired" — the Hoyt Sherman Place show meant that the Des Moines audience that night got to see the start of Lewis winding down his live performance schedule.

Hoyt Sherman has hosted politicians from Trump to Obama and many hopefuls as well

Iowa has had 50 years of history of presidential caucuses, so it's no wonder one of the oldest entertainment venues in Des Moines should be a place of frequent political visits.

More:The death of the Iowa Democratic caucus: How 50 years of jury-rigging doomed an American tradition

Recent presidents who have come through Hoyt Sherman Place range from Donald Trump appearing there almost immediately after announcing his 2016 bid for the presidency to Barack Obama who made a stop there while campaigning in 2007.

However, political appearances pre-date even the 21st century. In 1988, Hoyt Sherman Place even hosted Democratic presidential candidates Michael Dukakis, Jesse Jackson, Paul Simon and Dick Gephardt for a debate.

100 shows in Hoyt Sherman Place's 100th season, including these

Dionne Warwick will appear at Hoyt Sherman Place in Des Moines on Jan. 21, 2023, to celebrate the venue's 100th anniversary.
Dionne Warwick will appear at Hoyt Sherman Place in Des Moines on Jan. 21, 2023, to celebrate the venue's 100th anniversary.

Hoyt Sherman Place already kicked off the 100th season with Jazz in July, but plans to book 100 shows for the fiscal year.

It's not yet clear what the 100th show in the season will be, but on the day the venue celebrates its 100th anniversary it will host "An Evening with Dionne Warwick" at 8 p.m. on Jan. 21.

Warwick has received six Grammy Awards including a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019. Those wins recognized her work on songs such as "Do You Know the Way to San Jose" and "I'll Never Fall in Love Again." She also received a nomination for "That's What Friends Are For," a collaboration with Gladys Knight and Elton John.

Warwick released her studio album "She's Back" in 2019 and the album "Dionne Warwick & The Voices of Christmas" later that year.

Tickets for the event are on sale now at the Hoyt Sherman Place box office and website and range from $75 to $250.

Another event acknowledging the legacy of Hoyt Sherman Place is "Once Upon This Stage," set for 7:30 p.m. on March 29. That event will be a variety show with noteworthy local performers paying tribute to artists such as Grant Wood and Edna St. Vincent Millay, who made appearances early in Hoyt Sherman Place's lifetime.

Ballet Des Moines, B. Well, Alan Lampe and the Des Moines Storytellers Project among others will partner with Hoyt Sherman for that event. Tickets are on sale now ranging from $25 to $75.

“Certainly by the time our 'Once Upon This Stage' hits, we’re hoping to have a big announcement that we’ve hit our goal of 100 (events)," Warren said. "And we’ll have a few more on top of that as gravy.”

Patsy Shors tells her story during the Des Moines Storytellers Project's "Generosity" show at Hoyt Sherman Place in Des Moines on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2022.
Patsy Shors tells her story during the Des Moines Storytellers Project's "Generosity" show at Hoyt Sherman Place in Des Moines on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2022.

Isaac Hamlet covers arts, entertainment and culture at the Des Moines Register. Reach him at ihamlet@gannett.com or 319-600-2124, follow him on Twitter @IsaacHamlet.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Hoyt Sherman Place celebrates 100 years of entertainment in Des Moines