Revitalized Venue Provides Community Space for Artists, Events
By: Austin Schempp
Every artist needs a place to create, develop, and showcase their work. Since 2016, Salt Lake City creatives have found that welcoming place inside a historic venue on South Temple Avenue called “The Clubhouse.”
This year, the century-old, prairie-school style building is home to the sixth annual Wasatch Mountain Film Festival. David Brewer says he’s excited to host WMFF, The Clubhouse’s first film festival since he became co-owner.
I think [WMFF] is going to be a huge contribution to the creative flow of The Clubhouse,” Brewer says. “We’re super excited. We’re bringing out the biggest screen we’ve got.”
But if it weren’t for Brewer’s entrepreneurial spirit and desire to grow Salt Lake’s creative community, WMFF would likely be held elsewhere.
After graduating from the University of Utah in 2010 with a fine arts degree in photography, Brewer organized a group of photographers in need of production space. Together, they launched Photo Collective Studios or PCS. A year later, Brewer and his crew found themselves in an old bar and brothel in Salt Lake City’s Greek district, converting the open space into a rentable photo studio.
The photographer-only space quickly expanded to host a diverse set of artists and trades—live music, dance performances, events and more. They even hosted a pop-up tattoo shop for SLUG magazine
As PCS grew, they needed a bigger space. But searching for a new place wasn’t easy. Brewer toured several warehouses and all required considerable renovation. One promising option offered enough room to deserve an offer but other buyers stole it with a more competitive bid.
Feeling defeated, Brewer contemplated closing PCS and taking his career in another direction until a real estate friend convinced him to check out one last place: The Clubhouse.
When Brewer and his partner, Jessie Jude Gilmore, stepped inside The Clubhouse for the first time in February 2016, it was so cold they could see their breath. But they also saw potential. The Clubhouse offered space to expand as well as a rich history, proven by its National Register of Historic Places designation. It was perfect.
The only problem? Twelve offers already stood on the table to purchase the building from Preservation Utah, which acquired the building from the Ladies Literary Club in 2013. Facing a tight deadline, Brewer extensively researched The Clubhouse’s history to produce a 3-minute video. He hoped to show Preservation Utah that PCS had a history of repurposing old buildings in a way that honors the past.
He searched for any information he could find on the Ladies Literary Club, a women-only club which built and owned The Clubhouse for a century. He found that The Clubhouse was a space where women could self-educate and participate in the arts when university education wasn’t an option. Through his research, Brewer gained a deep respect for The Clubhouse’s status as a community space. PCS had a perfect match.
“There was no better way to tell [The Clubhouse] story than through images and film,” says Brewer. “It’s always been part of Photo Collective Studio’s brand to honor, restore, and celebrate historic spaces.”
During their decision meeting, Preservation Utah board members watched the film. At the end, they gave a standing ovation. One member trumpeted, “Can’t we just give it to them?” For three years, Preservation Utah held out looking for an owner who would celebrate its rich history and keep it open to the local community. They found that in David Brewer and PCS.
Once the deal was finalized, Brewer and Gilmore renovated The Clubhouse. They tore up periwinkle carpets, replaced lace curtains, and refinished 5,000 feet of hardwood floor. 8 Today, The Clubhouse is truly a community space, accepting artists in many forms. It also doubles as a perfect space for events like Wasatch Mountain Film Festival.
Stuart Derman, Co-Founder and Executive Director of WMFF, recognized how The Clubhouse fit the needs of the film festival from a technical aspect (acoustics, seating capacity). But the space and its history also matched the greater mission of WMFF: connecting communities to valuable places through dynamic storytelling.
“I’m so excited to partner with Clubhouse,” says Derman, noting The Clubhouse partnership will allow WMFF to add outdoor industry panel discussions and workshops to the festival for the first time. “As a venue owned and founded by artists, not only does this venue meet our spec requirements, but its very existence aligns with our core values as an organization.”
Meanwhile, Brewer is excited because he knows the potential impact that artistic events, especially a local film festival like WMFF, can have on growing Salt Lake City’s creative community.
A film festival like this is super valuable,” Brewer says, “especially in a space like The Clubhouse because it creates accessibility between young filmmakers and aspiring filmmakers and the actual cinematic experience.”
Brewer is also excited for attendees to learn more about the history of The Clubhouse and discover its offerings. Maybe, he says, it will inspire people to create their own work through its programs or rentals, which includes dance classes and the only public darkroom in the state.
“The Clubhouse is such a unique part of Salt Lake City’s history,” Brewer says. “To this day, many people are still unfamiliar with it. For one hundred years it has served as a mostly private space for the women’s club, so there hasn’t been a lot of opportunity for people to attend events there or to check out a film screening.”
This week, however, the experience of film-goers is most important and Brewer hopes The Clubhouse will provide a special experience that only a historic building with an artistic background can.
“It’s one of the best theater experiences in town as far as an intimate space with great acoustics, great visuals,” Brewer says. “My favorite part of hosting events at The Clubhouse is how unassuming the experience is for guests. You’re not showing up to a MegaPlex theater. You’re showing up to a historic home.”
Due to COVID-19 Clubhouse will not be hosting Wasatch Mountain Film 2020. We look forward to having our Festival at Clubhouse in the spring of 2021.