BY LORAINE ANDERSON
---- — I look through old photo albums for a funny photograph of Bryan Crough I took in 1982. An important era in my life flashes by — the years from 1979 through the 1988 when I was an active backstage member of the Old Town Playhouse.
That is where I met Bryan and a lasting circle of friends built around love of theater and creativity, song and dance, drama and comedy, tragedies and farces, mysteries and musicals.
In many ways, that decade helped shape my life and sense of community. It takes a lot of organization, business sense, diverse personalities and people to put on several plays a year — directors, casts, costumes, makeup, lights and set builders — volunteers of all ages.
Looking back, I can see that Bryan and others had a vision for the Playhouse. Bryan served as its executive director from 1981 to 1991, when he was appointed executive director of the Downtown Development Authority and Downtown Traverse City Association.
The new job was a great fit. Well-spoken, quick-witted and funny, Bryan had a proven history of herding OTP casts and making hard work fun and funny. His three years as city commissioner and his mayor experience gave him a good understanding of city government and politics, plus he understood the importance of arts and culture to a community.
I’ve been thinking about Bryan a lot this week since his June 16 death at age 59. I am not surprised by the State Theatre’s marquee message or the communal preparations for his memorial service held Saturday at the City Opera House.
He had vision. If you look at downtown Traverse City, you can see that he was a master at it and also skilled at integrating and clarifying other visions. He was a creative leader, original thinker and shepherd who understood one person couldn’t do it alone.
He told me once in an interview years ago after Grand Traverse Mall opened that he didn’t think of malls as the death of downtown. Instead, he saw them as an opportunity for the city to recast itself.
Traverse City has done that, at the same time preserving some of its historically significant buildings.
In a 2011 interview, he said the key to successful preservation projects of historically significant buildings is that they have an important use today. He pointed to the Grand Traverse Court House, City Opera House, Park Place Hotel and former Traverse City State Hospital.
“We haven’t saved every building, but certainly the key ones,” he said. “I’m not a strict historic preservationist. I’m more interested in how historic preservation helps a community save its sense of place and how it is used for the good of the community.”
Bravo, Bryan, and thank you. I love this place.
Reach Loraine Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org.