In 1946, World War I veteran Malcolm Fraser offered to donate his collection of art to any town in Florida along U.S. 1 on one condition: That they open an art museum that paid tribute to veterans.
The city of Ormond Beach took him up on his offer, and citizens later raised $10,000 — equivalent to over $147,000 today — to make the Ormond Memorial Art Museum and Gardens a reality.
And history has repeated itself. On Monday, May 9, a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held for the reopening of OMAM after the completion of its $4 million renovation project, an effort that began back in 2018 and was made possible through community donations, collaborations and dedication.
"We have followed in those exact footsteps of wanting to preserve this special and magical place for decades to come," OMAM's former director Susan Richmond said.
The renovation project, which began in late January 2021, demolished a 1998 addition to the original museum building, which fronts East Granada Boulevard and was built in 1915. The original building had been an attorney's office before the attorney donated it to the city. It still has some of the original glass in its front windows.
The 1998 addition was replaced with a two-story building, plus a rooftop terrace. The building has granted OMAM with more classroom space, a reception hall and catering kitchen. A new community pavilion area in the corner of East Granada Boulevard and Halifax Drive was also added.
Nancy Lohman, the museum renovation project campaign chair, said that though the project ended up costing more than the anticipated (it had been estimated at $3.5 million), the project will be paid in full once the museum receives the remainder of this year's pledges.
"What's really amazing about this is that we succeeded in completing this project during a global pandemic," Lohman said. "I mean, how crazy is that, right? That all during this period of time in our world, all of you gave generously and believed in our future."
'A huge diamond'
Ormond Beach Mayor Bill Partington said it was accomplishment to see the museum project completed, remarking on the synergy that is taking place on the beachside portion of the city's downtown district.
"It's an incredible building," he said. "I don't know if you've seen it at night. It's just as incredible and beautiful as it is during the daytime, but the outreach that is going to be accomplished through the arts as a result of your efforts is really, really wonderful."
In 2018, the city approved a 50-year building lease for the museum, allowing its leadership to pursue a $400,000 ECHO grant, a voter-approved program which provides funds for environmental, cultural, historical and outdoor recreational projects. The museum provided $415,000 in matching funds. Volusia ECHO Advisory Committee Chair Pat Northey highlighted that OMAM acquired the grant dollars during in the 2020 funding cycle, made more challenging because of the pandemic.
"Your commitment to the completion of this project for the reopening just a few years later is especially noteworthy," she said.
Lohman, Campaign Co-Chair Ann Burt and OMAM Board of Directors Vice President Sherry Gailey were known as the "Blonde Ambition Tour" for the project, leading the donation effort.
Burt, who was the OMAM director before Richmond, said that when she looks at how far the museum has come in 70 years, she is left in awe. She used to say she had the best job in the city because she worked in a "beautiful garden surrounded by fabulous art," and yet now, she thinks the museum has been made more beautiful. She and her husband Locke Burt donated $250,000 for the museum's educational center.
"This is for our children and our grandchildren," Burt said. "This is so that in 70 years, they can say, 'Look at what this group of people gave their community.' ... I always felt that this was not a gem, it was a huge diamond in the crown of Ormond Beach."
Not just a building renovation
Museum Executive Committee Member Kathy Crotty said the museum and its gardens are intertwined in her family's life.
Her family has lived in Ormond since 1958, and she recalled a time when her mother brought her and her sister Beth to the museums when she was their Girl Scouts leader. Her mother was running a promotion ceremony where her sister Beth was rising from being a Brownie to a full-fledged Girl Scout. Afterwards, when they were all hot and sweaty, they drank Kool-Aid in the gardens.
"Mom, we're drinking champagne today," Crotty said.
The museum project wasn't just about renovating a building, she added.
"We have opened the corner," Crotty said. "People can see us and we have invited everybody in and we hope every person that comes here gets a little bit of the magic that we all share."
In the world today, people tend to focus on their differences, Richmond said, but she felt the museum renovation was an example of what can be accomplished when the community focuses on what they share in common.
"We collaborate on a common goal," she said. "We can be part of something epic."