On October 4, 1884, Mrs. Clara Blanche Ellis Starr (the wife of Rockford businessman Chandler Starr) entertained a group of Rockford ladies who loved music, especially that of composer Felix Mendelssohn, in her home on North Main Street. That day, the Mendelssohn Club of Rockford was born, with Mrs. Chandler Starr as its first president.
Incorporated in 1894, the Mendelssohn Club grew from a group of local music lovers performing for each other into a community music organization. Club membership was made available to everyone in the greater Rockford area. An annual concert series with national and internationally-known musicians as well as local performers was implemented. Music programs for local youth were formed, including the Chandler Starr Miller Scholarship Competition, first held in 1961. In 1985, the Mendelssohn Chorale was founded by Ralph Nielsen, father of Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen. This ensemble is still growing and thriving today, performing annually in Mendelssohn’s Season Concert Series.
After meeting in several different locations during the early years, the Mendelssohn Club began construction on its own building at 415 North Church Street in 1950. In 1952, the building was dedicated and the first concert presented in its 220-seat auditorium. As audiences grew, Mendelssohn season performances expanded to locales such as the Coronado Theatre, Tebala Shrine Temple, Rockford Woman’s Club, and local churches.
In 2005, Mendelssohn purchased the historic Emerson House at 420 North Main Street to expand our presence in Rockford’s cultural corridor. We historically renovated the first floor, which is now used as performance/event space for Mendelssohn events, and is available for the community’s use. The second floor is now home to the business offices of Phantom Regiment Drum and Bugle Corps.
The Mendelssohn Club was officially re-named Mendelssohn Performing Arts Center in 2006, marking the transition from private club to community performing arts center. In 2012, Mendelssohn Performing Arts Center acquired the former First Presbyterian Church thanks to a generous donation by Dr. William and Leah Baskin. The growth of our campus has allowed us to offer more: musical programming, educational offerings, and space for community arts partners. MPAC has truly become a place and a space for the arts in Rockford.