PRCC breaks ground for performing arts center

Published 1:55 pm Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Pearl River Community College officials on Tuesday broke ground for a $10.4 million state-of-the-art performing arts center that will be a central anchor for the campus when it is completed in 18 months and will be one of the finest performing arts centers in the state, and probably the Southeastern U.S., officials say.

It is a major construction project that will ultimately change and elevate the significant character and culture of the Pearl River campus even more, which is already one of the state’s leading community colleges.

The facility is being financed mainly from a $4.7 million gift from native daughter, Ethel Holden Brownstone, who was a student at the college in 1931-32.

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“We will look back on this day as a significant day for Pearl River, and the gift that Ethel Holden Brownstone left us will be designated as significant, and we are proud of what this means to Pearl River College, and to South Mississippi,” said PRCC President Dr. William Lewis, in introductory remarks to those gathered for the ceremony on the old football field just prior to the ceremonial ground breaking.

The center will be constructed on the historic old football field at the corner of River Road and Old Stadium Road. It will dominate the central portion of the campus.

Turning the first dirt after the introductory remarks were Hal McMahon, vice president of Mac’s Construction Co. of Hattiesburg, who will construct the facility; architect Lewis Griffin; Dr. Lewis; Archie Rawls, chairman of the PRCC Department of Fine Arts and Communication; Dale Purvis, board member from Lamar County; Tony Waits, board president; and Dolores and Martin Travis Smith. Smith is attorney for the college board and his wife, Dolores, is a former teacher at the college.

The 1,000 seat auditorium in the facility will be named after Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Smith is the former state senator from Pearl River County.

The facility will be so advanced that it can host off-Broadway plays.

Officials here said that in 2003 PRCC received $4.7 million from the estate of Ethel Holden Brownstone, a graduate of Pearl River.

Approximately $4 million of her gift has been held in reserve for the performing arts center along with a $350,000 building fund for the arts grant from the Mississippi Arts Commission received in 2007, officials said. Additional funds came from the Hurricane Katrina insurance settlement.

The center will include a 1,000-seat auditorium, state-of-the-art sound and lighting equipment and a dinning area suitable for dinner theater performances, college officials said.

Said Smith, “Mrs. Brownstone cared for her family, the charities she was involved in, the churches she was involved with. It has been my privilege to have been involved in this process concerning her will.”

College officials released the following synopsis of Mrs. Brownstone’s life:

Ethel Holden Brownstone was one of 11 children born to James Houston and Florence Holden of the Whitesand Community.

She attended Pearl River County Agricultural High School and Junior College in 1930-31. The 1931 yearbook lists her as a member of the Reveille Society, Girl Reserve Club, Commercial Club and Seco Club.

After she graduated from high school, she moved to New York City with an older sister who was an interior decorator. Ethel Holden found a job as a window dresser at Bloomingdale’s, where she met Lucien Brownstone.

He was in the garment business and eventually owned 26 men’s clothing stores around the country. Brownstone also was a Wall Street investor, philanthropist and patron of the arts. The couple had no children and when he died in 1970, his will established two trusts. The income from both trusts went to his wife.

Upon her death in 1996, one of the trusts went to the Lucien and Ethel Brownstone Foundation in New York City. The other trust also went to the foundation, but it also provided that she could designate that the proceeds go to someone else in her own will.

Mrs. Brownstone left one-fourth to PRCC, a fourth to be split among Whitesand Baptist Church, Sand Hill Baptist Church in Carnes Community in Forrest County and Calvary Baptist Church in New York City, and the remaining fourth to charities and teaching hospitals in New York City.

PRCC received $4.7 million from Mrs. Brownstone’s estate.

The Brownstone contribution is the largest gift received by PRCC since Tatum Land Management Limited of Hattiesburg donated 36 acres of land within the Hattiesburg city limits to PRCC in 1987. PRCC’s Forrest County Center on U.S. Highway 49 South sits on that acreage, college officials said.

The performing arts center will be officially named “The Ethel Holden Brownstone Center for the Performing Arts.”