Former Lawrence schoolhouse becomes a punk rock venue

Music fans hangout in front of White Schoolhouse before Petri Productions one-year anniversary show on Aug. 23, 2018.

Out in North Lawrence, on the edge of the city limits, stands a small white schoolhouse surrounded by grass and trees.

For almost 100 years, the building known as White Schoolhouse was used as an actual school. Now, the building, located at 1510 N. Third St., serves as an all-ages punk rock venue for local production company Petri Productions.

Petri Productions, led by Paige Batson, recently celebrated its one-year anniversary of hosting punk shows at the old schoolhouse with a musical celebration featuring performances from several local bands.

“I feel like I’m going to get emotional at some point tonight,” Batson said before the show began. “It’s so crazy and it’s a community effort. All of this couldn’t happen if people weren’t stoked about music or we didn’t have such a great local scene.”

While Batson has found a new niche for the building, the schoolhouse had a long history before it became a new school of rock.

A birthday cake signifying the one-year anniversary of Petri Productions using White Schoolhouse as a music venue sits with framed copies of posters for previous shows at the venue.

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Jennifer Roth, a Lawrence resident who works in Topeka as a defense attorney, took over the building after her husband bought it at an auction.

“I was like, well, what are you supposed to do now, you just bought a schoolhouse?” she said.

To help pay for the taxes on the building, Jennifer began renting out the facility for parties and events, calling it her “side hustle.”

“We have birthday parties, business meetings, all kinds of stuff,” she said. “It has a really relaxed, chill vibe because you feel like you’re out in the country. It fits well for a lot of different things.”

The building features an open main floor with large windows with views of a large, grassy backyard; a back deck patio with lights strung around for ambiance and an open basement, which now serves as the punk rock stage.

Music fans hangout on the main floor of White Schoolhouse for Petri Productions one-year anniversary show on Aug. 23, 2018. Local coffee shop Decade, which has a liquor license, sells drinks during the shows.

Over the years, Roth learned more about the building’s history, including how many different iterations of the building were built on the land. She said the first schoolhouse was erected in 1868 and that it was rebuilt three times.

Roth said she’d learned in a history book that the building housed two classrooms, split between the main floor, during the more than 90 years that it was used as a school. The first three versions of the schoolhouse were all destroyed and rebuilt because of floods and fire.

The current schoolhouse went through several iterations once school in the building was out forever after the 1960-61 school term.

Once the schoolhouse’s education purpose ended, a family made it their home. Roth said some of the family dropped by the building earlier this year and showed her photos of the building when they lived in it.

Later, at some point, the building was a bar called Ichabods. After the bar closed, the owner rented it out as a party space.

But in 2011, the estate that owned the building put it up for auction, and the Roths made the purchase and spent a year repairing the building.

“The rest is history,” Roth said.

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Just like the building’s past, it now serves those who use it for several different purposes, including as a punk rock haven.

Batson, who also works at Love Garden Sounds, said she first learned of the building because of a Halloween party she attended there. She had previously been booking shows at other locations but realized she needed a large space and found the schoolhouse to be beautiful.

“I was a little hesitant at first because it’s such a beautiful space,” she said. “It’s been really great and people are excited. It’s kind of gotten a national name and bands are excited to play here now and it’s only been a year. It’s wild.”

Kansas City-based punk band The Get Up Kids even used the venue and surrounding area as the setting for its music video for the song “I’m Sorry,” which was released in August.

“It’s unreal and it’s really exciting,” Batson added. “It’s still blowing my mind.”

Petri Productions currently uses a makeshift stage and a borrowed sounds system in the basement of White Schoolhouse for its shows.

Batson and Paul DeGeorge, co-owner of Wonder Fair and a local musician, first used the building as a venue in August 2017. They were looking for a space for DeGeorge’s brother Joe’s punk band, the Downtown Boys, to perform in Lawrence during the total solar eclipse.

DeGeorge, who also performs with his brother in the wizard rock band Harry and the Potters, said he is always looking for places to perform and he first became familiar with the schoolhouse because he attended a wedding there.

He said after the wedding he realized the space could be used for “something really special.”

“Part of what makes this compelling is the effort of coming here,” he said. “You feel very purposeful and intentional in coming to a show here, and I like that from the perspective of a performer.”

Kansas City-based band Fullbloods performs during Petri Productions one-year anniversary show at White Schoolhouse on Aug. 23, 2018.

Ross Brown, frontman of the band Fullbloods, agreed that the venue fosters a crowd dedicated to hearing music, not people who are just looking for a bar. His Kansas City-based band opened the one-year anniversary show, which was their first appearance at the venue.

He said he didn’t know what to expect but he was pleasantly surprised by the amount of people who came out to the show.

“I think it’s awesome to have a all-ages venue anywhere and this particular location is very cool,” he said. “It feels like a basement house show without feeling like a house is going to implode on you.”

Audience members find the space to be unique as well. Lizzy Langa, a Lawrence resident, said she likes the versatility of the building. She said she’s attended five of the Petri Production shows at White Schoolhouse.

“I like how there can be basement shows, but if it’s nice out you can be outside or you can hang out upstairs,” she said. “I know other events here are weddings or birthday parties, (but) you can come here on a Friday and there is punk music.”

Now that a year of shows is in the books, DeGeorge said he hopes to make the equipment in the building more functional and professional. Currently, bands perform on a low-to-the-ground makeshift stage and use borrowed sound systems.

If that can be improved on, DeGeorge wants to bring the facility back to its educational roots by allowing it to be used as a training ground on how to put on shows.

“I think we can foster a community here of teaching people what’s involved in booking a show, executing a show, putting tickets for sale online or cleaning up after the show,” he said. “That’s all involved here and a lot of that labor is hidden. Ultimately we want to get more people involved and show them the way.”


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