Before Gorton came to symbolize “the community’s house,” we had a rich history with deep roots in the community. As a local landmark, Gorton dates to 1901, when it opened as the Central School, Lake Forest's first consolidated K-12 school.The Gorton building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. Listing is the Nation's highest honor accorded places of historic and architectural distinction.
Designed, built and opened as the Central School in 1901, the original building was designed by James Gamble Rogers and remodeled in 1907 by Howard Van Doren Shaw, the designer of Market Square. In 1935, Anderson and Ticknor created an east addition, including the John E. Baggett Auditorium, named for a much admired school superintendent. Ralph Millman oversaw a 1953 renovation of the building. The Stuart Community Room was added in 1985, and the Auditorium was renovated and restored in 1992. The Gorton building was completely renovated in 1999-2001 to bring its users new and improved program space. Included in the renovation were a new Children's Drop-In Center, Fine Arts Center, Performing Arts Center, Youth Activity Center, and Resident Nonprofit space.
1901 – 1971 - The Gorton School
Over the years, the Central School, renamed in 1912 to honor long-time Lake Forest mayor Edward F. Gorton, became known for its nurturing environment and motivating atmosphere. The learning experience must have been memorable, for many former students visit Gorton each year. In June 1971, School District 67 closed the Gorton School. The City of Lake Forest sought a single community group to take over the building and when this search proved unsuccessful, the City Council passed a resolution to demolish the building. The community was spurred into action.
1972 – present - Establishing Gorton Community Center
Organizations and individuals rallied to save the building for use as a community center. Mr. and Mrs. H. Brooks Smith spearheaded the public effort leading the City Council to establish the Community Center Committee as a privately-supported agency of The City of Lake Forest. In December 1972, Gorton Community Center made its debut, with volunteers providing the labor and materials needed to bring the building up to code.
From its founding, the operations of Gorton Community Center have relied on private donations. Until December 31, 2003, Gorton was connected to The City of Lake Forest by a municipal agency, the Gorton Community Center Commission. This affiliation enabled Gorton to purchase its insurance and payroll services economically through the City. The maintenance of the site and the exterior of the Gorton building were the City's responsibility as owner of the property. On January 1, 2004, Gorton became an independent, Illinois not-for-profit 501[c] public corporation. The Gorton Commission no longer provides a link for insurance purchases and payroll services, although the City continues to be responsible for maintaining the site and the exterior of the building.
Today, Gorton is one of only a few privately-funded community centers in the United States and serves as a unique partnership between community volunteers and the City of Lake Forest. Gorton Community Center, a private not-for-profit 501c3 organization, relies on the generosity of area residents and businesses to support building improvements, programs and services which are offered in the historic building owned by the City of Lake Forest.