Not For Glory, But Love of The Arts & St. Louis–The Kranzbergs

by Debbie Monterrey, dcmonterrey@cbs.com

Have you been to Grand Center lately? St. Louis City’s Arts District looks amazing with it’s beautiful architecture, theater marquees, sparkling lights and hustle and bustle.

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Photo courtesy of the Kranzberg Arts Center

The rebirth of Grand Center– home of the Fox Theater, Powell Hall and now so much more–happened in fits and starts over the past 15 years, until Ken and Nancy Kranzberg got involved.

Since starting the Kranzberg Arts Foundation, Ken and Nancy have invested more than $20-million dollars in the area. In fact, they’ve got so much going on, even they forget everything they’ve done.

Hear the KMOX Profile with Ken and Nancy Kranzberg here.

They’ve received numerous awards and accolades for their efforts and philanthropy, and on October 27, they’ll receive the H. Meade Summers, Jr. Award from the Landmarks Association of St. Louis.

“Nancy and Ken Kranzberg’s passion for the arts and their love of St. Louis have resulted in immeasurable contributions to the cultural landscape of our community,” says Landmarks Executive Director Andrew Weil. ” [They] have found ways to preserve, revitalize, and sustain some of St. Louis’ most important neighborhoods and institutions.  They have also worked to created conditions that attract and nurture new creative endeavors to grow and thrive.”

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Photo courtesy of the Landmarks Association of St. Louis

“Most of the things we do are for local arts institutions,” Nancy explains.  “I was a docent at the art museum for many years and I love to sing. So I just dragged Ken into it.”

The Kranzberg Arts Foundation initially moved into the old Woolworth building at the corner of Grand and Olive and was a great improvement on what for years  been a boarded-up eyesore. It is now a bustling place whose neon lights have increased the strip’s big city feel.

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Kranzberg Arts Foundation (Photo courtesy of Grand Center, Inc.)

“It  was really Big Brothers Big Sisters that wanted to go there,” explains Ken Kranzberg. “Nancy and I just wanted to have a small little art center somewhere and we picked Grand Center. We thought that would be the right place. And Vince Schoemehl said to me, ‘Look. Big Brothers Big Sisters can’t do it alone, they need a little extra help. Would you put the art center in the Woolworth building?’ I said, well it’s not really what we had in mind but if it makes a difference for Grand Center, we’ll do it. That’s how it started.”

The Kranzberg Arts Foundation is now housed on Locust Street in the .ZACK building. Their galleries in Grand Center include the Darkroom, the Kranzberg Arts Center Gallery and Duet.

Theater and performing spaces  include the .Zack Theater, the Grandel Theatre, The Marcelle, Sophie’s Artist Lounge & Cocktail Club and the Dark Room.

The Kranzbergs also came to the rescue of another Grand Center staple–Circus Flora, St. Louis’ very own circus.

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Photo courtesy of Circus Flora

“The circus was in trouble. We’re one of only three cities with its own circus. The Arts Foundation bought the circus tent, and we bought a lot in Grand Center that will be right on Washington Avenue where the circus will be next year,” Ken says.

For years, Circus Flora would pitch its tent during its summer run in the parking lot next to Powell Hall, so a permanent location of its own adds stability. In fact, Kranzberg hopes the big top can stay up nine months out of the year, making it available as yet one more performance space and venue. Circus Flora executive director Larry Mabry says it definitely gives them more exposure.

Ken Kranzberg says he gets immense joy out of giving, that it’s rewarding to be able to make a difference.

Aside from his work in the community, these days, Ken Kranzberg is the chair of TricorBraun, formerly Northwestern Bottle Company. He says when he joined his family’s business years ago, it did about $500,000 a year in business. Today, it’s one of the 25 largest privately held companies in St. Louis doing about $1-billion in business.

The Kranzbergs definitely don’t do it to see their name on a building or to promote themselves. In person, they are humble, funny and self-deprecating. But their legacy is a tremendous benefit to our entire community.

Also, they probably need more shelves to hold all of their awards and accolades.

 

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