Heaven Sent

A former convent proves the perfect home for a pair of empty nesters.


















The Sweeneys retained some of the home’s existing paint
schemes, including the deep green in the parlor-dining room.
Photograph by Thom Thompson, www.thomthompson.com

 

For a century, the site where Rita Sweeney lives was home to the Visitation Sisters of the Holy Mary, an order of cloistered nuns who rarely ventured beyond 9-foot-tall granite walls, even as a lively neighborhood sprang up around them.

In 1993 the sisters moved to a less populous retreat in Massachusetts. Their block-long, 35,000-square-foot city home was redeveloped into 24 semi-detached units. And though the main structure couldn’t be saved, the stout granite walls were retained, along with such details as the wrought iron gates the nuns walked through on rare trips into the outside world.

More than a decade later, the charming enclave proved to be a divine solution for Sweeney and her husband, Tom, who was approaching retirement after a distinguished career in law. The couple had raised four children in a big house a few blocks away in Wilmington’s elegant Highlands neighborhood, and though they wanted to stay in the neighborhood, they didn’t need quite as much room.

“When we saw this house was for sale, we looked at it more out of curiosity,” Sweeney says. “But when we came inside and saw how light and spacious it is, we realized right away that it was right for us.”

Because the home is an end unit, it is blessed with both bountiful natural light and a side patio shaded by wisteria. The path the nuns trod to go to prayers is now an intimate courtyard.

Inside, the Sweeneys appreciated an open floor plan conducive to get-togethers with family and friends, flowing from a spacious kitchen to a cozy family room to a gathering area, where sunshine spills through skylights.

“We probably have more entertaining space here than we did in a four-story house,” she says.

But the configuration was visually broken by a transition from oak floors to wall-to-wall carpet. The couple rolled up the rug and laid down hardwoods, creating a single, seamless expanse.

Though the kitchen was in good shape structurally, it was short on storage. The Sweeneys decided to gut the room and start over, turning to Catherine Hodgins of Kitchens By Design Inc. in Brandywine Hundred.


The kitchen features an island topped with an
exotic granite from South America. Photograph
by Thom Thompson, www.thomthompson.com

Because storage was important, Hodgins recommended frameless cabinets, essentially three-sided boxes with doors. On the outside, the cupboards have flat center panels, trimmed simply in Shaker style, with a warm brown glaze reminiscent of a country inn.

“There’s no frame on the front to take away from storage,” Hodgins says. “It’s a more efficient use of space, but still beautiful to look at.”

The cabinetry is customized with such amenities as a drawer equipped with a cutting board—which is much more stable than the old-style, pullout boards—and specialized drawers for pots and pans.

A walk-in pantry provides ample room for staples, bulk goods for entertaining and enough snacks to keep 12 grandchildren happy. The door is outfitted with racks for cooking oils and spices.

The centerpiece of the kitchen is a large island topped with Crema Bordeaux granite, a type quarried in South America. It is characterized by vivid patterns in gold and cranberry, the color of an antique painted cupboard that inspired the room’s design.

“I’ve never seen a piece of granite that exotic,” Hodgins says. “It’s one of a kind.” She and Sweeney discovered the slab on a shopping expedition to a stone yard.

“It had a ‘sold’ sticker on it, but the people never came back, so we wound up getting it,” Sweeney says.

The island is equipped with a counter for casual seating, a wine chiller, a prep sink and a gas range top that is positioned so the cook can stay in touch with people in the adjoining gathering spaces.

“She can watch TV, look outdoors and interact with the family,” Hodgins says.


Because it’s an end unit, the house receives an
abundance of natural light. Photograph by Thom Thompson,
www.thomthompson.com

The Sweeneys are both native westerners who were transplanted to Wilmington for Tom’s career. The houses of brick and stone, many in colonial styles, were a marked contrast to the architecture Rita grew up with in Colorado.

She took one look—and liked what she saw. She got to work, raising a growing family and creating a comfortable and inviting home for her family to enjoy.

In addition to a keen eye for balance and harmony, Sweeney is blessed with two qualities that are a boon to a homeowner decorating a new house.

“I love color—and I make quick decisions,” she says.

The cranberry paint on the antique cupboard is reflected in a custom hutch in the kitchen that can be easily set up as a bar. Softer variations of the shade are found in the upholstery on a solid-color sofa and pair of cottage-style floral-print chairs grouped in front of the fireplace.

A large pine hutch is ideal for storing and displaying the sparkling array of Waterford crystal Sweeney has collected on frequent trips to Ireland.

Setting a lovely table is a priority for Sweeney. She’s especially fond of dishes, starting with the Lenox Musette pattern she received as a bride more than 40 years ago. Since then, she has added Belleek porcelain and an assortment of antique plates.

For large family gatherings, she sets up multiple tables, starting with the expansive pedestal table in the formal dining area. For a dinner party for 30, she arranges smaller tables in the gathering room, each with elaborate place settings.


A pine hutch displays Sweeney’s collection of
Waterford crystal. Photograph by Thom Thompson,
www.thomthompson.com

“It looks like a little Irish bed-and-breakfast,” she says. “I enjoy decorating the tables more than the cooking.”

In moving into a new place, it’s important to identify what needs to be changed and what should be kept. Sweeney’s color sense told her the existing sun-kissed gold walls in the kitchen and gathering area would be a cheerful backdrop for get-togethers, as well as a daily joy for the Sweeneys.

She also appreciated the deep green that defines the walls of a combined parlor and formal dining room. It’s dramatic in the evenings, in the ambient glow of the Waterford crystal chandelier in the foyer.

Sweeney teamed a Duncan Phyfe pedestal table and carved, Chippendale-style chairs with a stately Hepplewhite sideboard with inlaid wood trim.

“I bought the chairs, the table and the buffet at different times and places and brought them together,” she says. “They all seem to get along, without having that feeling of going out and getting a matched set.”

Sweeney’s mother also loved to decorate. She once owned the pair of chairs with finely carved backs and upholstered seats that now reside in the Sweeney’s parlor. Her mother also handed down a rocker with a seat in a sweet, floral needlepoint pattern.

“Family is everything to me, and it’s special to have things that belonged to my mother,” Sweeney says. “If someone asks me for decorating advice, I urge them to go with what makes them feel comfortable.”

 

GET THE LOOK
Give a traditional space a touch of the exotic. The Sweeneys made a bold statement in their kitchen with Crema Bordeaux, a type of granite with lively cranberry and gold swirls.

Repurpose furnishings to accommodate wide-scale entertaining. Rita Sweeney sets multiple tables for large sit-down dinners, including a table and chairs brought in from the patio.

Evaluate what you don’t like about a home and what is worth keeping. The Sweeneys retained the vibrant green and gold wall colors chosen by the previous owners.

Let it flow. The Sweeneys replaced wall-to-wall carpet with oak flooring to match an adjoining space, creating a cohesive, expansive span between the two.

 



 
(left) The Two Herons, (right) Aborigena III

Pieces of Life
Rita Montori’s mosaics brighten homes while conveying her life’s experiences.

Mosaics have beautified homes since ancient times. For Rita Montori, the craft is as spiritual as it is aesthetic. “I hope it’s the same for others as it is for me,” she says. “When I buy original art, I feel the soul of the artist.”

Montori’s pieces include decorative and functional dishes, frames and tables. But her mosaic renditions of molas, textile works created by the Kuna tribe of Panama, hold the most meaning. Designs vary, but all display waves of color that “represent nature, abstract themes and rituals,” Montori says. “Molas are special.” Prices range from $500 to $1,200.

Mosaics can brighten entryways, bathrooms and kitchens. Molas are superb choices for living rooms and other places where friends gather. The pieces are great conversation pieces because Montori’s life experiences show so strongly in her work.

The native of Ferrara, Italy, moved to Wilmington last year. She has lived in Paris and Brazil while traveling the world, which explains why some of her color choices are inspired by Australian Aboriginals and natives of the Americas. “If my background shows in my work, then that is very special to me,” she says.

Look for Montori’s pieces at the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts in Wilmington or by appointment. Contact her at www.musaicum.com or 290-2194.                                                    —Maria Hess

 

 

Out of the Pantry
When looking at food, a variety of colors and textures present themselves. By simply changing their containers and locations, pantry items become decorative elements. Spices are perfect—and aromatic—choices. They are easily transferred from supermarket bottles into something beautiful. Check out Kitchen Kapers (Concord Mall, 3626 Concord Pike, Wilmington, 478-4405; Concord Plaza, 4737 Concord Pike, No. 360, Wilmington, 478-5540) for a variety of decorative racks, including one in gleaming chrome that spins like a Ferris wheel.

Nothing says “hot meals” like a string of dried chilis dangling from a decorative hook. Pastas beg to be shown off, especially those from gourmet shops like McCabe’s Gourmet Market (York Beach Mall, Ocean Highway, South Bethany, 539-8550) or Bon Appétit (Talleyville Shopping Center, 3629C Silverside Road, Wilmington, 478-4344). Spinach and tomato add color to shapely pastas such as conchiglie and rotini. Scour antiques stores for transparent storage vessels such as classic apothecary jars.

Don’t forget dry goods such as brown rice, arborio rice and beans. Their shapes, sizes and textures can make them the starting points for dazzling centerpieces and place settings. Vinegars and oils can be easily infused with whole herbs and stored in decorative bottles, which make a great decorative—and flavorful—addition to any countertop.

Not in DIY mode? Some florists, like Wild Thyme (5725 Kennett Pike, Wilmington, 656-4454), can incorporate food stuffs into unique arrangements. —Scott Pruden

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January 2017

January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
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Sports Card & Collectible Show at Aetna Fire Hall on Jan. 22—sign up now! -Sports Cards McFarlane Figures Comic Books Non-Sports cards Wrestling Items Vintage Starting...

Cost: $2

Where:
Aetna Fire Hall
400 Ogletown Road
Newark, DE  19711
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Sponsor: A2Z Promotions
Telephone: 302-983-2636
Contact Name: Bob Harper
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The Rehoboth Beach Film Society announces the next play in the exciting series of National Theatre Live screenings. National Theatre Live is a groundbreaking project that presents the best of...

Cost: $18-$20

Where:
Cinema Art Theater
17701 Dartmouth Drive, #2
Lewes, DE  19958
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Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
Website »

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Belly Dance Classes with Zahra Beginner & intermediate classes open to teens and adults Sundays in January starting Jan 8th Beginner: 2:30-3:30 p.m. Intermediate: 1 - 2 p.m (must get...

Cost: $15-$42

Where:
Take the Lead Studio
320 Lantana Drive
Hockessin , DE  19711
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Sponsor: Take the Lead
Contact Name: Zahra
Website »

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The Resident Ensemble Players, Delaware’s professional acting company performing at the University of Delaware, presents The Bells by Theresa Rebeck. During the great Yukon gold rush of the...

Cost: $15 - $30

Where:
Thompson Theatre, Roselle Center for the Arts
110 Orchard Rd.
Newark, DE  19716
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Sponsor: Resident Ensemble Players
Telephone: (302) 831-2204
Website »

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Ah, typecasting—the baritone is always the bad guy! In Devils, Drunks & Dastardly Dudes, we’ll go on an operatic journey of men behaving badly. We’ll add a tenor to the mix, too… but we...

Cost: $29-$59

Where:
OperaDelaware Studio
4 South Poplar St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Sponsor: OperaDelaware
Telephone: 302-442-7809
Contact Name: Mary Wilcosky
Website »

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Come give curling a try! At this 2-hour intro-to-curling event we'll provide a basic lesson then coach you through a mini-game.  Whether you just want to cross #curling off your bucket list or...

Cost: $35

Where:
The Pond Ice Arena
101 John Campbell Rd
Newark, DE  19711
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Sponsor: Diamond State Curling Club
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January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

The Rehoboth Beach Film Society announces the next play in the exciting series of National Theatre Live screenings. National Theatre Live is a groundbreaking project that presents the best of...

Cost: $18-$20

Where:
Cinema Art Theater
17701 Dartmouth Drive, #2
Lewes, DE  19958
View map »


Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
Website »

More information

Notbybreadalone Ministries presents Feeding the Hungry Outreach. All are welcome to come and partake of food, fun and fellowship. Those who desire a better way of life through Jesus Christ are...

Cost: Free

Where:
2nd and 3rd Streets
Wilmington, DE  19801


Sponsor: Notbybreadalone Outreach Ministries
Telephone: 442-0440
Contact Name: Ministers Wayne and Stephanie Dumpson
Website »

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Guest speakers Patty Dailey-Lewis, executive director of the Beau Biden Foundation, and Delaware Family Court commissioner Loretta Young will discuss how participation in social media can too...

Cost: Free

Where:
Wilmington University - Dover
Building A Auditorium
3282 N DuPont Highway
Dover, DE  19901
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Sponsor: Wilmington University College of Social & Behavioral Sciences
Telephone: 302-295-1164
Contact Name: Dr. Johanna Bishop
Website »

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January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:30AM-12:00PM Fall session: Thursday, Dec 1st thru Thursday, December 15th Winter session: Tuesday, January 17th thru Thursday, March 30th   Drop in on Nature is...

Cost: see description

Where:
The Annex
501 Chandler Mill Rd
Kennett Square, PA  19348
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Sponsor: The Land Conservancy
Telephone: 610-347-0347 ext.104
Website »

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East Coast Garden Center Indoor Farmers Market Nov 8, 2016 - April 11, 2017  11 am- 2 pm 25 vendors Location:  East Coast Garden Center 30366 Cordrey Rd Millsboro, DE 19966 302-945-3489

Cost: frr

Where:
East Coast Garden Center
30366 Cordrey Rd
Millsboro, DE  19966
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Sponsor: East Coast Garden Center
Telephone: 302-945-3489
Website »

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East Coast Garden Center Indoor Farmer's Marke 25 vendors

Cost: Free

Where:
East Coast Garden Center
30366 Cordrey Rd
Millsboro, DE  19966
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Telephone: 302-945-3489
Website »

More information

The Rehoboth Beach Film Society announces the next play in the exciting series of National Theatre Live screenings. National Theatre Live is a groundbreaking project that presents the best of...

Cost: $18-$20

Where:
Cinema Art Theater
17701 Dartmouth Drive, #2
Lewes, DE  19958
View map »


Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
Website »

More information

A four-week series of ballroom dancing classes taught by teachers from the BlueBallroom. Tuesdays starting Jan. 10. Classes are $30 a lesson for Non-Members. Non-Member slots are limited. For...

Cost: $30

Where:
University and Whist Club
805 N Broom St
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »

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January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

The Rehoboth Beach Film Society announces the next play in the exciting series of National Theatre Live screenings. National Theatre Live is a groundbreaking project that presents the best of...

Cost: $18-$20

Where:
Cinema Art Theater
17701 Dartmouth Drive, #2
Lewes, DE  19958
View map »


Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:30AM-12:00PM Fall session: Thursday, Dec 1st thru Thursday, December 15th Winter session: Tuesday, January 17th thru Thursday, March 30th   Drop in on Nature is...

Cost: see description

Where:
The Annex
501 Chandler Mill Rd
Kennett Square, PA  19348
View map »


Sponsor: The Land Conservancy
Telephone: 610-347-0347 ext.104
Website »

More information

Thursdays from 4:00PM-5:30PM Fall session: December 1st, 8th and 15th Winter session: Starts January 19th, every other Thursday until March 30th This program is based entirely outdoors and is...

Cost: Cost: $30 for TLC members / $40 for non-members

Where:
Bucktoe Creek Preserve
432 Sharp Rd
Avondale, PA  19311
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Sponsor: The Land Conservancy
Telephone: 610-347-0347 ext.104
Website »

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MARC BROUSSARD In 2004, Marc Broussard, then a precocious 22-year-old singer/songwriter, released his major-label debut; he called it Carencro, after the Louisiana town where he was born and...

Cost: $22 SRO- $32 SEATED

Where:
World Cafe Live Wilmington
500 N Market St
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 215-222-1400
Contact Name: MP Intern
Website »

More information

The Resident Ensemble Players, Delaware’s professional acting company performing at the University of Delaware, presents The Bells by Theresa Rebeck. During the great Yukon gold rush of the...

Cost: $15 - $30

Where:
Thompson Theatre, Roselle Center for the Arts
110 Orchard Rd.
Newark, DE  19716
View map »


Sponsor: Resident Ensemble Players
Telephone: (302) 831-2204
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Tutto Fresco has live entertainment every Friday night from 6:30–9:30 p.m. Call for details. http://tuttofrescode.com/

Where:
Tutto Fresco
514 Philadelphia Pike
Wilmington, DE  19809
View map »

More information

The Resident Ensemble Players, Delaware’s professional acting company performing at the University of Delaware, presents The Bells by Theresa Rebeck. During the great Yukon gold rush of the...

Cost: $15 - $30

Where:
Thompson Theatre, Roselle Center for the Arts
110 Orchard Rd.
Newark, DE  19716
View map »


Sponsor: Resident Ensemble Players
Telephone: (302) 831-2204
Website »

More information

Meeting every Friday, Bayhealth Kent General Hospital, 640 s. State Street, Dover, 7:30 pm., Private Dining Room #3 in the basement. For those who have, or think they may have a gambling problem....

Cost: 0.00

Where:
Bayhealth Kent General Hospital
640 S. State Street
Private Dining Room #3
Dover, DE  19901
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Telephone: 800-855-2CALLGA
Website »

More information

Cost: $12-$20

Where:
Wilmington Drama League
10 West Lea Blvd.
Wilmington, DE  19802
View map »


Sponsor: Wilmington Drama League
Telephone: 302-764-3396
Contact Name: Kathy Buterbaugh
Website »

More information

Show More...
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January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

January 28 – Saturday – 1 to 4 p.m. Science Saturday – Truss Me, You Won’t Fall! Become an engineer for the day. Design a bridge to hold as much weight as possible....

Cost: Activities are included in regular admission and free for members.

Where:
Hagley Museum
201 Hagley Creek Road
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Sponsor: Hagley Museum
Telephone: (302) 65802400 x 238
Contact Name: Jessica Eisenbrey
Website »

More information

The Resident Ensemble Players, Delaware’s professional acting company performing at the University of Delaware, presents The Bells by Theresa Rebeck. During the great Yukon gold rush of the...

Cost: $15 - $30

Where:
Thompson Theatre, Roselle Center for the Arts
110 Orchard Rd.
Newark, DE  19716
View map »


Sponsor: Resident Ensemble Players
Telephone: (302) 831-2204
Website »

More information

GRILLED CHEESE AND CRAFT BEER TASTING We have taken two of the best things on earth and paired them together – Grilled Cheese and Craft Beer – and paired them together in unexpected and...

Cost: $40

Where:
World Cafe Live Wilmington
500 N Market St
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Telephone: 215-222-1400
Contact Name: MP Intern
Website »

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Saturday, January 28, 2017 at  7:30 pm at St. David’s Episcopal Church, 763 Valley Forge Rd, Wayne, PA 19087 Sunday, January 29, 2017 at 3 pm at Church of the Holy Trinity, Rittenhouse Square...

Cost: Tickets are $25 online, and $30 at the door. Student tickets $10 at the door.

Where:
Church of the Holy Trinity
1904 Walnut St.
Philadelphia, PA  19103
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Sponsor: Lyric Fest
Telephone: 215-438-1702
Contact Name: Jessica Nelson
Website »

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Fan favorite, Dick Smith, returns to the Dickinson Theatre Organ Society concert stage on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017 for a show that is sure to bring the house down! Dick Smith has been a...

Cost: $15 Adults; $10 Students

Where:
John Dickinson High School Auditorium
1801 Milltown Road
Wilmington, DE  19808
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Sponsor: Dickinson Theatre Organ Society
Telephone: 302-995-2603
Contact Name: Bob Dilworth
Website »

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The Dickinson Theatre Organ Society presents Dick Smith. For tickets, click here: http://www.dtoskimball.org/events-tickets/ticket-information/ For further information, please call us at...

Where:
, DE

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The Resident Ensemble Players, Delaware’s professional acting company performing at the University of Delaware, presents The Bells by Theresa Rebeck. During the great Yukon gold rush of the...

Cost: $15 - $30

Where:
Thompson Theatre, Roselle Center for the Arts
110 Orchard Rd.
Newark, DE  19716
View map »


Sponsor: Resident Ensemble Players
Telephone: (302) 831-2204
Website »

More information

Cost: $12-$20

Where:
Wilmington Drama League
10 West Lea Blvd.
Wilmington, DE  19802
View map »


Sponsor: Wilmington Drama League
Telephone: 302-764-3396
Contact Name: Kathy Buterbaugh
Website »

More information

MOTHERSHIP Mothership is the area's premier Led Zeppelin Tribute show. Composed of seasoned, professional musicians Mario Padovani - vocals, keyboards, Frank Ginocchio - drums, Chris Julian -...

Cost: 15

Where:
World Cafe Live Wilmington
500 N Market St
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Telephone: 215-222-1400
Website »

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