The Corvallis Arts Center building began its life as an Episcopal church, constructed in in 1889 just a block south of here. It was one of the products of the influential English emigrants who arrived in Benton County in the late 1800s under the leadership of Wallis Nash, and English lawyer. Besides serving on the Board of Regents of the fledgling State College (now OSU), Nash was a vice president of the Oregon Pacific Railroad Company. The railroad was building track trestles and bridges from Yaquina Bay to Corvallis, with hopes of continuing eastward to Boise, Idaho.
Nash enlisted the railroad bridge engineers to design the church. Many of the building materials were salvaged from the Episcopal girls' school and chapel, which was located in Central Park.
When the parish built a new church on 35th Street in 1961, this old Carpenter Gothic beauty stood empty at the corner of Seventh and Jefferson. The property and building were sold to the Corvallis Elks Lodge #1413.
In 1960, another influential group of Corvallis citizens had begun to explore the idea of an arts council that would serve the area's theater groups, artists, reading groups, musicians, dancers and crafters. Under the leadership of president Marion Gathercoal, the Corvallis Woman's Club began its effort by hosting Corvallis' first community-wide
arts festival, involving more than 30 organizations throughout the community and OSU to generate interest. Finally, on September 12, 1961, the Corvallis Arts Council became the 21st arts council organized in the United States and the first in Oregon.
By 1962, the Arts Council was looking for a place for an arts center. Secretary Corrine Chaves Woodman called the Elks Lodge about its vacant church building. Two days later, volunteers began to clean, repair and ready the building for its new use. On January 26, 1963, after months of work, the Corvallis Arts Center celebrated its grand opening in the former church building.
But living in a borrowed building carried risks. In 1967, the building and property were sold again. A new headquarters for the Corvallis Gazette-Times would be constructed on the block that housed the Arts Center. New owner Stan Wilt was willing to give the building to the group if they could move it. The City agreed to donate a lot it owned at Seventh and Madison for the relocated building. Citizens and businesses raised money to have the building listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which made it eligible for grant funds.
The building was moved in July of 1970, and reopened its doors to the public on November 21, 1971, at its new location here on Madison Avenue.
The Corvallis Arts center steadily gained
the support of the community through memberships, participation, donations and voters' support for stable funding. Finally, in 1979, the 1889 structure was made a permanent part of the town's civic life with the completion of the plaza that connects the Arts Center and Central Park.
The plaza also marked the beginning of many public improvements that would make Madison Avenue a key connection between OSU, downtown and the riverfront.