John and Jody Wittnebel have always supported the arts in Beloit. So much so, they decided to take a leap of faith and purchase a historic downtown icon to help keep the arts alive.
In 2012, the Wittnebels purchased the former First Presbyterian church building at 501 Prospect St., and transformed it into a performing arts center called The Castle. The venue is available for use by the Beloit International Film Festival, Beloit College, Rock River Philharmonic, as well as special events such as weddings, corporate events, and presentations.
“Kids are excited about coming here.”
The Castle, which was built in 1906 and has achieved landmark status, is also home to The Youth Unite, Inc., a non-profit organization that provides wellness education and guidance to the community. The Wittnebel’s daughter, Brittnay, a Beloit College graduate, created TYU in collaboration with Beloit College. Today TYU hosts concerts and events for youth, produces DVDs to spread the message of anti-bullying, runs a 24-hour help-line website and is offering assemblies. “Kids are excited about coming here,” says Jody.
The Wittnebels had seen a similar project done in Minnesota, where a worn-down church was brought alive when it was converted into a performing arts center. “We can do that here,” thought Jody. They consulted with Beloit College, the Beloit Film Festival and the City of Beloit, who all gave them encouragement. So the couple bought the building and began the painstaking process of refurbishing The Castle, doing a majority of the work themselves. They painted walls and replaced flooring among other things. The main room maintains its beautifully-curved oak pews and stained glass windows. “My husband loves history; this was perfect for us,” she says.
It’s a family affair.
Jody owns a marketing agency called Hourglass Media, a photography and videography studio and John is a pilot for American Airlines. Brittnay handles the marketing and son, Johnny, is a music teacher at The Castle. In addition, the Wittnebels recruited Greg Gerard, a Grammy-winning Beloit musician and director of operations for the Beloit Film Festival, to help manage programming at the facility.
“Our goal was to save the church from demolition and offer both commercial and philanthropic events,” says Jody. “We want to help various community groups while providing Beloit with a cultural centerpiece that will draw visitors and patrons from the Stateline area and beyond.”
Focus on family friendly events
Jody says there will be a focus on family friendly events at The Castle, with concerts for teenagers as well as special events and educational activities for parents and younger children. The Castle will give young artists a place to perform, and others a chance to enjoy and learn about the arts. The Castle is also about attracting visitors to Beloit.
“We’re giving the community what they want in terms of music and art,” says Jody. “Our goal is to give people the royal treatment. This can be a country club for the arts. We want to take a good experience to another level.”
Learn more about The Castle | www.thecastlebeloit.comBack To The Beloit Experience