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Updated: March 20, 2023 Focus on Meetings and Tourism

A home for art and community: New owners of The White Room make it their own

Photo | MATT WRIGHT Luis Fraire (left) and Birgit Straehle purchased The White Room after their arts gallery in The Sprinkler Factory was closed down.
Photo | TIMOTHY DOYLE Pre-dating the Worcester Public Market and Polar Park, The White Room has operated as a unique events space in the Canal District for almost 10 years under two ownership groups.

In the 19th century, the Crompton Loom Works operated at 138 Green St. in Worcester, so industrialist George Crompton could watch his business from his estate atop Vernon Hill, the spot where Saint Vincent Hospital has since come and gone.

The mill was abandoned and later redeveloped by Dino Lorusso, who still owns it today. Crompton Place is a bustling hub of retail spaces, restaurants, and offices at the heart of a revitalized and renamed Canal District.

Nestled at the back of the building by a brick courtyard with a fountain is a gallery and event space called The White Room, owned by Birgit Straehle and Luis Fraire. The space has made a post-COVID comeback over the past year and is a nexus of cultural and social life in Worcester, hosting everything from weddings and family gatherings, to art exhibits, concerts, and business networking events.

The first show in the space since Straehle and Fraire bought it coincided with Worcester’s tercentennial.

“We were debating if we should wait with the artwork until after we painted the walls,” said Straehle. “We spontaneously decided with the big event coming up to have some artwork up and then it turned out to be a show.”

The White Room was founded and previously owned by Amy Lynn Chase, who opened it as an event space in 2014. Chase, wanting to focus on her retail ventures Crompton Collective and The Haberdash, sold the business to Straehle and Fraire in 2022. Straehle said that for the couple, its birthday is June 10.

Chase laid the groundwork for The White Room being a versatile event space. Straehle and Fraire added their own flair, bringing their previous experience running an art gallery at the Sprinkler Factory and adding new amenities, like a full bar.

The space itself is, like the name suggests, white. When Fraire and Straehle bought the space, he wanted to make it even brighter than it was. They made it their own, adding whimsical touches like a disco ball, their collection of plants, and a line of handmade hammocks.

The courtyard of The White Room
Photo | Timothy Doyle
In warmer weather, The White Room will take advantage of the courtyard outside of the space.

Fine art is almost always a feature in the space. At the time of publication, they are hosting a show of paintings curated by Juniper Rag, a Central Massachusetts-based art magazine and artist promotion company.

“We actually had a tough time trying to define what the space is,” said Fraire. “Okay, it’s a function hall for sure, but it’s also a banquet hall; and it’s also a community room. But we settled on a good definition: It’s an art space, it’s an event space, and it’s also a gathering hall.”

Cultural credentials

Straehle and Fraire together ran the Sprinkler Factory gallery space on Harlow Street until complications between the City of Worcester and the building owner, combined with the COVID pandemic, forced the gallery to shut down in 2021.

The couple both work with Preservation Worcester and the Worcester Historical Museum. Straehle, a former paintings conservator with the Worcester Art Museum, restored a mural at Stearns Tavern, an historical landmark built in 1812 in Worcester, since moved to the shores of Coes Pond, and reopened to the public.

Straehle was part of the 2019 class of Leadership Worcester, a program of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce encouraging involvement in Worcester civic life.

The couple is a bridge between the business and arts community, and the older and younger generations in the area.

Worcester poet, artist, and organizer BrujaTheVillain said the couple makes people feel at home and they are open to all ideas and cultures.

“The White Room brings a lot of opportunities to a lot of marginalized artists,” said Bruja. In some other spaces, she feels like she is walking on eggshells, but she finds The White Room to be inclusive.

Part of the community

While private events are still a staple of The White Room business model, community events play a large role in the space.

Bruja organizes The Poet’s Cauldron, a spoken-word open-mic show open to all cultures, every third Sunday of the month at the White Room. The series features a guest poet each month.

In 2023 so far, the space has hosted a klezmer concert, a bachata dance social, a luthier vending event, and a Valentine’s Day themed ping pong night, a personal passion of Straehle.

In addition to cultural events, the White Room has hosted an event for State Senator Robyn Kennedy and the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce event Power of Women: Mindful Life Design: 4 Exercises for Clarity, Motivation, and Habits.

“What makes The White Room special is its ability to transform into any kind of event space that is needed while also providing an inviting atmosphere that features the works of local artists,” Caitlin Lubelczyk, Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce vice president of marketing and communications, said in an email. “I was very impressed with the transformation that has taken place, including the addition of a full bar.”

Straehle and Fraire strive to be good neighbors in the Canal District. They have hosted author events for Bedlam Book Cafe, also located in Crompton Place. When people holding private events ask about where to find a caterer, the couple is happy to connect people with the many different restaurants nearby.

“It’s an exciting thing when events source food and supplies and services from local vendors because there’s a lot in the Canal District to work with,” said Fraire.

“We have BirchTree [Bread Co.] upstairs, and there are all these local businesses from El Patron to Wings Over Worcester, [and] Che! Empanada,” said Straehle.”

They see the changes in the Canal District and are excited to be part of it.

“It’s not only a business district, but people are really moving in here,” said Straehle. “We hope this is a good venue to introduce all the new residents to art and to Worcester life.”

With hundreds of apartments under construction in the area, the couple hopes to connect the new residents with Worcester artists and sell art for the blank walls in the new units. They offer art consulting services to people who are looking for local art. “We can help you to find an artist or style that you like,” said Straehle.

“You make your home your own when you purchase original artwork,” said Fraire. “For some reasons, that I don’t know, Worcester produces a lot of good artists and artwork.”

Bruja, one of those artists, is happy to be a part of the community The White Room creates. The space is part of the city and at the same time apart from it. Entering it is like suddenly being in a different place. “It’s magical,” she said.

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