Yaku & The Corner of High and Main

by Job Abraria

In the heart of Peoria, at the mouth of the High Wine district, and the gateway to the historic Moss-Bradley neighborhood lays a grand old church, presently known as the Hale Memorial Church. This church was built in 1900; it has been a part of Peoria’s culture since it’s peak in the whiskey days, the fall during prohibition, and was a safe place of worship for many during Peoria’s long rebirth. Since the departure of the last congregation, the church has had little life inside, some would say abandoned. That changed three years ago with a young Peoria man and his wife.

Earl Power Murphy and his wife Natalia Villanueva purchased the church in 2010 with dreams of restoration and building a new place for life in Peoria. Earl is a Peorian of 20 years and a teacher at Woodruff Career and Technical Center. Natalia is a French Peruvian artiste who left her life in Paris to join Earl in Peoria and restore the church together. They started this project in search of a way to combine their skills and passions and to participate in a growing community of young, creative people, passionate about building their city. 

The couple was first drawn to the church by the awesome presence it holds pinning together High and Main Street and overlooking downtown. But the moment they entered the church they were immediately captivated by the radiating character and overwhelmed by a sense of possibilities. They knew something had to be done. 

They founded Yaku; an organization charged with restoring the building and bringing new life to the historic space. Since the beginnings of Yaku, Natalia has been traveling around the world with her artwork sharing stories of the church and Peoria with artists from around the world; garnering support and participants from places such as: France, England, Peru, South Korea, and Japan. Locally, Earl has been organizing the movement needed to create a presence for the project in Peoria. 

Yaku is guided by a group of esteemed local professionals, the Advisory Board, and organized by a group of genuine, hardworking young people, the Makers. Yaku will create multi-day art festivals overtaking the heart of the church, sharing the work of artists from around the world. Between events, the church will be a place for Peorian’s to celebrate the life that is already growing here, e.g. theater, dance, or musical performances, community meetings, business gatherings, or personal celebrations such as marriages, birthdays, or a graduation. As of today, there is already a group of over 40 artists committed and ready to come to Peoria to share their work. 

The church has survived years of neglect and Yaku is ready for action. The first restoration project is titled Floors and Doors. This will be a crowdfunded project to bring stability to the building. Through contributions the goals of the project will be surpassed and the project will be carried to new heights. The goals of the project are to: build safe and secure entrances, repair areas of the floors damaged by the elements, clear excess debris, and seal the envelope, i.e. patch the roof, close holes in the gutters, and protect the stained glass. 

The Indiegogo campaign will run from May 5th to June 3rd. It includes two events for the public, both held at The Larkin, 400 W. Main Street. The first, May 10, will be a town hall style meeting where the Founders and Makers introduce themselves and the work of Yaku then open the floor to questions from the audience. The second event will be May 24, it will be and introduction to the Arts of Yaku, a presentation of a selection of artists and their works will be shared. 

The environment is primed and Peoria is undoubtedly the place to do it. Together, Yaku and the community will breathe new life to a historic structure and bring it into the future. The culture of Peoria will have a new place to grow and an exchange of cultures will take place; the world will learn of the blooming life here and we can be inspired by the creativity from around the world.