After extensive renovations, the historic LItchfield Opera House gets a makeover | Local

It was Hillary Rodham Clinton who said it takes a village to raise a child. It’s also true: it takes a village to save a historic building.

It’s been a long time coming, but the interior of Litchfield Opera House is almost finished.

It’s almost hard to believe how close the 121-year-old downtown Litchfield building has come to the wrecking ball. In 2003 and 2007, the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota listed it on its list of the 10 most endangered historic properties in Minnesota. Connie Lies said city council voted seven times to withdraw it, but for some reason it never happened. As a result, the new Greater Litchfield Opera House Association was able to purchase it for $ 1 on January 4, 2008.

Lies, a former GLOHA board member and now facilities and events coordinator, said she couldn’t believe it.

If you haven’t visited in a while, and most of us haven’t due to the COVID-19 pandemic, changes have occurred. Check out the new chandeliers in the lobby, the new paint – blue and pink – is original for the building. And the new dining area next to the kitchen? It’s near a side door for easy access to the street.

New staging, sound and lighting equipment are coming. This includes an iPad to operate the stage lights and sound from a distance, wireless microphones and mobile projectors. The original floor of the Opera has been restored. The HVAC system has been upgraded with air conditioning. There are new electrical installations and new bathrooms that meet the requirements of the United States Disability Act. The list is lengthened increasingly.

There are two rooms on the second floor which have been roughly finished for the artists’ boxes. Lies’ husband Don and board members Kevin Hovey and Art Ellson completed one during the shutdown. Remarkably, there is no storage in the Opera House. Lies said if someone wants to bring their own tables and chairs for an event, they must provide a covered trailer to store the building’s equipment. One of the rooms is now designed as a storage space for decorations, tablecloths and the like. The other will become the new storage area for sound and light equipment.

That said, there is more to come. Lies said a recent Legacy grant of $ 100,000 from the state Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund would be used to rebuild the balcony stairs in the lobby. It will also help restore the balcony area with new floors, new safety rails, and rebuild the risers for better visibility. When the windows were installed, the woodwork was not finished, so it’s on the list, plus the baseboards. There is also work in the basement to be done.

Currently, the stage consists of the original planks and the ceiling of the old town administrator’s office (the Opera House served as Litchfield town hall for many years). This area will be reconstructed to better meet the needs of the theater by reducing echoes from the floor of the stage. This will change with an improved thrust stage.

“Currently there are no stage curtains,” Lies said. “When Litchfield High School renovated and removed their theater, they offered to let the Opera House collect materials that we could use. We were able to recover the curtain pull system and stage curtain, which will be reused on a date. other facilities Thank you very much to Litchfield School District 465 for this generous gift.

The plans also provide for the replacement of all the drapes in the building. This project is not part of the Legacy grant and Lies estimated it would cost around $ 30,000 to have custom curtains made, so a fund was started.

GLOHA’s success is due to a combination of passionate members, volunteer volunteers, in-kind donations, and support from politicians such as Rep. Dean Urdahl, who was instrumental in securing $ 100,000 from the bill. State guarantee in 2018 for the restoration of the Opera. The group also received several additional Legacy grants, including the recent $ 100,000, which will be used for the final phase of novation / restoration, and grants from the Southwest Minnesota Arts Council, as well as others.

Beyond subsidies, the association supports itself through memberships, events and rentals. Lies said the group is thrifty and uses its resources carefully. So far, they are doing everything to put everything back in the building. Rentals pay for heating and lighting. Members pay taxes, insurance and necessary renovations.

Recently, an endowment fund was established with Thrivent to ensure the long term maintenance of the building.

Like many businesses and nonprofits, last year’s shutdown cost GLOHA money – $ 26,000 to be exact. That’s a lot for a small non-profit organization. Things, however, are improving. The Opera started face-to-face events earlier this year. At the time of going to press, Lies said she has an open weekend until Christmas. Otherwise, it’s reserved. It’s good news.

There is also good news if you like entertainment. October is a busy month with rehearsals for the upcoming production of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” as well as concerts by:

  • Country swing group 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday, October 2. Admission is $ 15 at the door. Expect to hear music from Kitty Wells and other artists from Grand Ole Opry.
  • Abby Johnson, opera singer, will perform her favorite tunes from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, October 9. Admission is $ 7 at the door.
  • Kingery Family performs gospel and bluegrass music, 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, October 14. The concert is a benefit for the Meeker County Food Shelf, so it is free, but monetary donations to the Food Shelf are encouraged. This event is co-sponsored by Paul White. Additional funds have been requested through a Thrivent Action Team.
  • Terry Shaw, Hailing from Litchfield, will entertain with its mix of local stories and songs from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday, October 23. Admission is $ 8 at the door.

Looking back, Lies said the Opera’s most successful event was the Shaw Allen Shaw reunion at the Meeker County Fairgrounds. Their second most successful show was a Beatles tribute event, which filled the Opera House and spilled into the parking lot.

The musical performances are a draw. One of the reasons may be the acoustics of the Opera. With a grant from the Works Progress Administration, the building was gutted and turned into a community center in the 1930s. At the time, the ceiling was covered with Nu-Wood ceiling panels.

“It changed the acoustics,” Lies said. “It has excellent acoustics, some of the best in the state.”

While the acoustics may have stayed the same, everything else has improved. The interior will need to be finished by 2023, as that’s when the Legacy grant expires. Then there is the exterior work. With a historic building, the job never ends, but Lies said it was worth it to save a piece of Litchfield history.

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