After 20 years in the Colonial Warehouse building, Christian's House of Balls finds its new home in the former DIY music space Medusa, right off the LRT stop on the West Bank. Christian and his wife, writer Mary Jane LaVigne, have been hard at work getting the space, which was pretty rundown, into shape. The new and improved House of Balls opens in about a month. In the meantime, they're hosting a sale at their old space in the Warehouse District this weekend.
Allen Christian invites visitors into his House of Balls
It will be the third location for House of Balls. Christian opened the original gallery shop 28 years ago in the Berman Buckskin Building in the Warehouse District, which mostly housed artists at the time. He had planned on just renting a studio as an alternative to working on his art in his basement, but instead ended up getting the storefront space and opening it up to the public. Rent was $100 a month. Christian says the spectacular view of the cityscape from the building contributed to his evolution as an artist, a perk he looks forward to capitalizing on in his new space as well, as it has one of the best unobstructed views of the downtown skyline in the city.
Eventually, the Berman Buckskin Building suffered the same fate as the Skunk House, which we wrote about last week
, in that it was bought out to make room for the new Federal Reserve Bank. Christian moved his operation down the street to the Colonial Warehouse Building, on Third Avenue North and Second Street, next to where Moose & Sadie's is now. Along with House of Balls, Interact Center for Visual and Performing Arts is also moving, leaving Venus de Mars's studio as one of the last artist spaces in the building.
Though Christian acknowledges that gentrification has entirely changed the landscape of the Warehouse District, he wasn't forced out of the building. Rather, he felt he had outgrown the space, and had been looking for a new place with LaVigne, who he married this summer (but has been with for 15 years). Still, he says that owning property is one way that artists can take control over gentrification issues.
Christian and LaVigne had been on the lookout for a new space for the last six or so years, but more seriously the last two. Eventually, they sought the help of artist and realtor Ephraim Cruz Eusebio (of "Turf-Mobile" art car fame). The first site they visited was the old Medusa space. They purchased the building from the daughter of the former owner of Jewel Electric, who had rented it to the Medusa crowd for six years.
Christian fell in love with it immediately. In addition to the amazing view, he's excited to have much more space to create work both inside the building, which will act as a gallery and a workshop, and outside, where the giant bicycle-powered polar bear, used for the Art Shanty Project and re-purposed recently for the Barebones Halloween Show, is currently hanging out.
Originally, the building had been a gas station, opening in 1931. While there are many repair needs, Christian says you can see signs that the building had an art-deco style to it originally. He hopes to unearth that aesthetic, while keeping some of the artwork that currently covers the interior walls. There's also a graffiti piece of art on the building's exterior facing the light rail by the artist Swoon.
The former owners paid to remove a couple of fuel tanks leftover from when Jewel Electrics was up and operating, and there were some environmental concerns given that the building had also once been a gas station. Christian and LaVigne paid to have the site tested, and were relieved to discover that it was clean. Now they're free to dig out the asphalt and do other work on the property.
Improvements include adding two new garage doors, getting a new rooftop system, and putting in installations for the walls. Christian has already uncovered the windows, broken down a dilapidated boiler, and put in some of his own artistic touches, such as patching up the walls with art objects such as a bowling ball and a gas can.
Though the space is much larger and more visible than his previous storefront, Christian foresees much of the operation of House of Balls to be the same. Like the old space, the new building won't have posted hours. Since he'll be using it as a workspace, he'll be there a lot, so you'll just have to happen upon House of Balls when Christian is there. "It adds to the mystery," he says. And while he's mainly planning on showing his own work, he's open to the possibility of having other kinds of events in the space, including performances and other happenings.