A world-class museum that is the home of fine art. An indoor-outdoor cafe where Longview-area residents can enjoy views of downtown. A cultural arts center that encourages collaboration among local artists and arts organizations.
Those are Tiffany Jehorek’s dreams for the Longview Museum of Fine Arts. Those dreams may soon become a reality for downtown Longview.
The museum is considering moving from its home on Tyler Street into the former Regions Bank building at the corner of Fredonia and Methvin streets in downtown, said Jehorek, who serves as LMFA’s executive director. The move, should it happen, is intended to allow LMFA to increase its space and its presence in downtown and set the city on a path toward having a cultural arts center.
“I’m excited,” Jehorek said this past week as she looked around the vacant interior at the former Regions Bank, envisioning all that it could become. “I’m excited for what this could mean for Longview.”
With a drive to bring cultural arts to the city, the Junior League of Longview established the Longview Museum of Fine Arts in 1958. The League spent about two decades collecting artwork that it donated to the museum when it was established, Jehorek said. The original Junior League of Longview collection contains about 50 pieces.
LMFA moved to locations throughout the city as it grew in size and popularity. The museum has been at its 15,000-square-foot home on Tyler Street since 1998.
Throughout the years, LMFA has grown its permanent art collection to nearly 1,000 pieces. The museum also plays host to a variety of traveling exhibits and invites artists from across the world to Longview, Jehorek said.
However, a desire to continue creating a more engaging and interconnected museum experience for Longview residents and visitors alike lead the museum to consider a move, Jehorek said.
The 44,000-square-foot former Region Bank building, designed by renowned architect B.W. Crain Jr., became available in October 2019 after Regions moved to a new home on Marshall Avenue.
The former Regions Bank building has many qualities that Jehorek believes would be key in helping LMFA expand its footprint in the city.
“Visibility is one of the main features. It’s situated right across from the courthouse and then you’ve got the sheer size of the building itself. It would be hard to miss,” she said. “The building itself is constructed like a vault. It’s built like a bank. It has such a presence with the mid-century modern soaring ceilings and marble.
“I really think in some ways that building was just made to be an art museum. It also is a building that I think is important in Longview’s history, and so we would take good care of it. As a museum, we conserve art, and that building is a little bit of art.”
The building itself features first-class art, Jehorek said. A 40-foot mosaic counter by abstract Houston artist Herbert Mears graces the length of the main lobby. Additionally, renowned artist Richard Lippold’s signature gold-filled and stainless steel wire “Lone Star” chandelier sculpture hangs in the main lobby. Crain purchased the Lippold piece for $125,000 in 1960, Jehorek said. Both works would become “the hallmark” for LMFA’s permanent collection, she said.
The building itself features four levels. The first floor would be the home of LMFA’s permanent collection and exhibitions, Jehorek said. Should the museum move forward with purchasing the building, Jehorek said she would keep unique bank features such as a former bank vault. The space inside the vault would transform into exhibit space, but museum patrons would walk through the vault door to view the gallery.
On the main floor, Jehorek envisions artwork lining the main walls as well as creating movable walls that could hold additional artwork. Drive-thru bank teller stalls would allow for easy access for loading and unloading artwork for traveling exhibits.
Meanwhile, a space on the first floor that houses safety deposit boxes would become the museum’s vault for its permanent collection when pieces are not on display, she said. Jehorek envisions re-purposing the safety deposit box fronts and asking a local artist to create some sort of a mural that could potentially be displayed at an indoor-outdoor cafe. Jehorek plans to use space outside the building and part of the existing drive-thru to create a cafe. On nice days, patrons could sit outside and enjoy lunch.
The bank’s lower, basement level contains a kitchen that Jehorek said needs a bit of renovation, an auditorium that can seat about 50 people and a conference room that she wants to transform into the new home of ArtWorks Creative Learning Center. ArtWorks is LMFA’s learning center that offers school programs, classes and special events for the community.
Meanwhile, space inside the building’s second and third levels would continue to be rented out to help offset building maintenance costs, Jehorek said. However, she’d like to see some of that space rented to fellow arts organizations that may be looking for an office. The Arts!Longview Cultural District has its office on the building’s second floor.
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the building itself could become a cultural arts center, a building for the arts to gather at?” Jehorek said. “Already the cultural arts district office is there, but what if the symphony, the symphonic band or the ballet had an office there? If we’re all there, I think it lends us the ability to cross-promote, to coordinate and to do different programming together.”
Jehorek also envisions some space being rented out to artists who may want or need a work space.
“On the second floor, there are two wings. One wing is pretty full — it’s mostly rented out,” she said. “The other wing has about 15 different office spaces that could be reconfigured to serve another group, or I had thought maybe we might could create some kind of artist cooperative, where they could share space or rent out artist studio space. As an artist, sometimes it’s nice to be in a place where you can share ideas and then go work on your stuff and then go talk to your neighbor.”
As for LMFA’s current space, Jehorek has a wish list for what she’d like to see happen with it.
“Here’s my wish list. If it was my long-range plan, if our building could then become a center for ArtsView Children’s Theatre or Pat Mitchell’s Ballet School, I think how wonderful that would be for them to be able to be in downtown Longview,” she said. “These wood floors are great for dancing, and we already have some stadium seating here that would be good for ArtsView Children’s Theatre.”
While Jehorek said she doesn’t know if the entities would be interested in moving, she would like to see them a little closer to downtown and the existing museum so that more collaboration can happen.
The museum and its board of directors are still considering whether to move, Jehorek said. However, should board members decide to embark on the decision, LMFA will launch a $5 million capital campaign to help make the center a reality. The capital campaign would help pay for building projects and a renovation; however, it would also help establish an endowment and maintenance fund for the building, she said.
“We really think that it could change the heart of Longview, the landscape of our downtown, and really be a tourism driver,” Jehorek said. “We really believe this would be something the community would be proud of.”