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  • Writer's pictureEmilene Leone

The Sound Conservatory, Rock Island, Illinois

A few months back, I stumbled upon this article about a new business in downtown Rock Island, The Sound Conservatory Located in a former theater, my interest was piqued, as always, because I love old buildings, and learning about their past, and seeing them be redeveloped and reused. But also, on a selfish note, I was extremely curious about it because, the article mentioned that the third floor of the building would be converted to condo spaces and downtown Rock Island condos are on my brain right now, as I am looking to move into one in the near future. I absolutely love Rock Island and think some of the most interesting architecture in the Quad Cities can be found on the streets of downtown Rock Island.

And so, on a lazy day when I was trying to figure out what building I'd like to photograph for this blog next, I realized I was facebook friends with the owner, Andrzej Kozlowski, so I decided to reach out and ask if I could come and take photos of the building.

He very graciously allowed me access to the space, and I got to learn quite a bit about the building and his plans for the future.

According to the Rock Island Preservation Society the structure was originally built in 1901 as the Illinois Theatre, a live theater venue. Wouldn't it be incredible to travel back in time and see the kinds of plays, concerts, and shows that would have performed there?

As times changed, and movies came into our lives, and vaudeville went out of style, there was less demand for live theatre venues and the building became, first, a Montgomery Wards department store, and, later, the home of Hyman's Furniture. It was then donated to the local YWCA, who has owned it since then and used it for various purposes.

But now, a new life for this beautiful old building, and a return to its musical roots. The Sound Conservatory has set up shop on the first floor as a music store and academy.

As I approached the building from the outside, I felt like the shadows on the building from the stairs were creating a giant piano keyboard across the brick exterior, like the old theater building is so happy to have music within its walls again that it wants to sing its joy out to the world.

I'm a little bit of a romantic when it comes to old buildings and their souls---okay, a LOT bit of a romantic, and it might be an imaginative extrapolation on my part to say that a building is happy, but I anthropomorphize buildings, always have, and I truly feel like this structure is thrilled to have the sounds of pianos and other instruments ring out from its walls again.

On the first floor, musical instrument sales are in full swing. As you walk into the front door, beautiful pianos are everywhere, just waiting for their next owners to bring them home.

Rooms for music lessons are just down the hall.

Beyond these spaces, the rest of the building is mostly a work in progress. I was allowed access to the space to document it as-is, taking many "before" photos of the space that will be perfect to use as before and after photos as work continues throughout the building.

There is a plan for every inch of the space, and it will be exciting to see it as it changes!

Some rooms will serve as areas to service, repair, and restore pianos. I was able to see this Victorian beauty in the middle of its refinishing.

The southern light streaming into this space was absolutely breathtaking.

There is a grand staircase leading to the upper floors.

The plans for the upper floors include a concert venue, an area to display information about music history, and on the third floor, there will be loft apartments. While it looks chaotic now, one doesn't have to use much imagination at all to see that it will all be a beautiful space again someday. For now, I was happy to prowl around and take the project's "before" photos.

It's exciting to see positive change come to downtown Rock Island and can't wait to see the "after" photos someday.

But until then, here are the before photos:

Despite the current appearances, this building has such happy vibes, like the cheers of the audiences from the glory days gone by are still somehow lingering in the air.

And in the meantime, while the building awaits its true and full restoration, modern audiences are able to contribute their cheers to the building as the Sound Conservatory offers musical concerts and performances. I was able to attend one last week, a fundraiser for the Rock Island-Milan School District music program and took some photos:

If you are interested in seeing this beautiful space, enjoying some music, and helping a good cause, the Sound Conservatory is hosting a jazz dinner in support of downtown Rock Island's Nest Cafe and their efforts to feed the community this holiday season.

While it is exciting to see the arts flourish in downtown Rock Island, the magical thing for me is that even in bringing some culture and elegance to the area, a big part of Rock Island's charm is its refusal to let anyone or anything get too stuffy or fancy. As I finished up my photography for the day, imagining the elegant concerts that will take place, and the glamorous apartments that will be located within the walls, I laughed as I read the message on this dumpster by the back exit.

Bad bitches only, love it. Very Rock Island. As a decidedly not bad bitch myself, I decided that was my cue to say goodbye for the day and maybe look for a dumpster that read "Awkward, nerdy, architecture enthusiasts only" to hang out by instead.

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