The Henegar Center is the oldest surviving public building in Brevard County and the last remaining building of the original Melbourne School Complex. Construction of the Melbourne School began in 1919 and in the fall of 1920 opened for students. Melbourne had only two street lights, three churches and no paved roads.
Built at a cost of $140,000 and designed by architect W.M. Christen with a neoclassical style. The school featured 12 steam-heated classrooms (no air conditioning, just a lot of windows!), a library, an auditorium, a science room and the principal’s office. The first high school class consisted of only 13 students and graduated in 1921.
In 1963 the school building was named in honor of former teacher and principal Ruth Henegar, who never missed a day or was tardy for 42 years (7,360 school days!). The Melbourne school was the only school in the area during the 1920’s and 1930’s and saw a peak student enrollment of 1,400 in 1959. Attendance slowly declined as population grew and new schools opened up in residential areas. With enrollment down to 331 students in 1974, after 55 years the doors of the Ruth Henegar Elementary School closed on June 11, 1975.
The Henegar Center was born from the vision of a dedicated group of local residents including the local theatre group INDIAN RIVER PLAYERS. Their mission was to solve two problems – save the deteriorating abandoned Melbourne School buildings and provide a home for cultural and performing arts programs in South Brevard. On May 20, 1983 the non-profit corporation BREVARD REGIONAL ARTS GROUP, INC (BRAG) was established and started the monumental effort of fundraising and convincing community leaders to support the mission.
After 4 years of community fundraising, grant writing, planning, and chasing pigeons out of the building – in August 1987 the wrecking ball knocked down the back wall of the school’s auditorium to make room for a newly constructed stage, fly-loft, backstage dressing rooms, scenic shop, and prop storage. As progress continued, in May 1990 the Brevard County Commissioners deeded the property and buildings to BRAG to own and operate The Henegar Center.
The Henegar Center was very fortunate to have Broadway scenic designer and two-time Tony Award winner Peter Feller on the team to design the new theatre and stage. Peter designed and built scenery for 100’s of shows on Broadway and retired in Melbourne with his wife Katie. As a tribute to his contribution, The Henegar Center named its youth education program THE FELLER THEATRE ACADEMY.
Finally, after years of fundraising and construction, the $2.5 million renovation of the old Melbourne School was ready for opening night of The Henegar Center’s MainStage Theatre! The first show opened on October 25th, 1991 with Melbourne Civic Theatre’s production of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. The Henegar Center’s mission has evolved over the years from a ‘for rent’ civic center to today’s mission as a dedicated Performing Arts Center.