Conner Prairie, Ritz Charles Commit $3M to Transform Chinese House Into Premier Events Space
Writer: Seth Johnson
Photos Provided by Conner Prairie
For decades, Conner Prairie has provided generations of visitors with an experience unlike any other — one that’s full of exploration, imagination and wonder. Now, in partnership with Ritz Charles, the historic Fishers organization hopes to continue doing more of the same with the renovation and expansion of Eli Lilly’s historic Chinese House, located on the grounds of Conner Prairie near 131st Street and Allisonville Road.
Originally built in 1907, the Chinese House was purchased by Eli Lilly in the late 1940s to use as a family retreat. Lilly decorated the home in the Chinese style, adding furniture and architectural elements to compliment its interior. In archived diaries, he even wrote that the ceilings were painted “with gorgeous Chinese symbols.” Herein lies the significance of the home’s current name.
As part of a $3 million partnership, Conner Prairie and Ritz Charles are set to revamp the historic home, transforming it into a dazzling multi-purpose events space. Upon completion in early 2019, the restored Chinese House and a new pavilion – The Bluffs at Conner Prairie – will open as a breathtaking venue on the bluffs of the White River with 250-person occupancy available for wedding ceremonies and receptions, social galas, corporate events and holiday parties.
“The renovated Chinese House will provide guests a great connection to Conner Prairie’s past and a gateway to our future,” says Conner Prairie president and CEO Norman Burns. “Visitors will get to experience Eli Lilly’s former retreat and his love for Chinese culture while having access to nature, views of the White River and a beautifully renovated space for their events. Revenue generated from this partnership and new space will allow Conner Prairie to continue providing unique and innovative experiences for our members and guests for years to come.”
As part of the partnership, Ritz Charles will have exclusive operating rights to provide food and beverage services at the Chinese House and The Bluffs, with the majority of their funding supporting capital improvements and construction of The Bluffs – which will be enclosed with glass on three sides allowing for amazing views of the White River and old growth wooded grounds. The space will provide Ritz Charles clients with another great event space option when it’s ready next year.
“We feel incredibly fortunate to partner with Conner Prairie on the renovation of Eli Lilly’s historic Chinese House,” says Ritz Charles co-owner Bill Nicholls. “When you combine the natural beauty of the land, the compelling history of the house and the new renovations we have in store, the new Chinese House will be a truly unique event space for weddings, receptions, corporate meetings and other special events.”
In addition to Ritz Charles’ commitment, support for the project includes a significant pledge from Jay and Nancy Ricker, the founders of Ricker Oil Company, Inc., a generous grant from the Lilly Endowment Inc. and several other private donations. All in all, Burns is elated about the partnership and how it will bring more people into the beautiful Chinese House.
“We were going to be restoring and using this facility whether or not we entered into a partnership with someone like Ritz Charles or not,” he says. “It just so happened that it was kind of an alignment of the planets, if you will, and what they were looking for as a community asset and what we needed to do was the perfect marriage. I think it’s a way for people to see how a nonprofit and a for-profit can come together and do something fabulous for the community.”
Conner Prairie is located at 13400 Allisonville Road in Fishers. For updates on the Chinese House and its renovation visit connerprairie.org or you can give them a call at 317-776-6000.