As you would think, being around for 125 years there is a lot of history behind the Memorial Opera House. The Porter County Memorial Hall, also known as Memorial Opera House, is an historic Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Hall located downtown Valparaiso, Indiana.
Designed in 1892 by a local architect, Charles F. Lembke., using Romanesque styling, it was built in 1892-3 to seat 100 people. The founders wanted a functional war memorial, not merely a plaque or statue. It was also used as the local opera house at that time. The next year, they renamed the building Memorial Opera House. At the time of construction, Indiana Avenue was called Mechanics Street. Today, the two story building seats approximately 320 people on the main level and another 50 people at the upper level balcony.
The Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce hosted an 125th Anniversary Ribbon Cutting. On stage was the backdrop of the Upcoming Production, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” Several representatives from the local community, the chamber of commerce and the theatre community were present. As a special treat, there were two performances shown by the actors of the Hunchback singing their favorite numbers.
Rex Richards of the Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce, opened up the ceremonies and spoke about how the Opera House brings such a great “quality of life” element to Valparaiso.
Jeff Good, Chairman of Porter county Commissioners, continued the ceremonies and spoke for a few minutes. “The Commissioners are looking into getting additional funding for the Opera House,” he stated. “While the Opera House is a beautiful building, it takes more than beauty to create a great success. It also takes great staff and great volunteers as well,” he continued.
Scot MacDonald, who was named business director in March spoke for a few minutes. “We’re excited about getting seats from Star Plaza Theatre, which will be installed this year.” Scot has been with the Opera House since 2012. Scot started out as the box office manager and became artistic Director in 2013. Today, he works with his staff and 200 volunteers who help with sets, costumes and performances.
The interior retains the orchestra pit and VIP balcony seats on the sides. The balcony seats were framed by turned posts with appliqué decorated railings. Originally the Opera House was lighted by gas lighting, which gave a yellow glow and lighting to both the stage and the orchestra pit with dim lighting for the audience. The small VIP balcony seats are still visible today, but were converted into decoration purposes only in the renovations. Latticework, similar to that used in Queen Anne houses, connects the posts across the top.
By the time of World War II it was an abandoned building. Beginning in 1955, the Community Theatre Guild leased the property and began maintaining it once again for theater productions. The Guild arranged a lease from the Porter County
Commissioners, and began making repairs and creating a stage for local talent. It started with fixing the crumbling steps, a new tile floor in the lobby, paint, curtains and then major repairs followed. A new floor with modern seating was installed in 1967, along with improvements to the orchestra pit. The improvements cost about $250,000. This work peaked in 1967. Decline began with the advent of the movies, for which it was converted. The Opera House was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.
The renovations completed in 1998 is documented in a special article published by the PanoramaNOW in 1998. The 1998 renovation was paid for by private donations through the Memorial Opera House Foundation along with county funds and revenue from the Build Indiana Fund. “During the restoration, they needed to change the color of the interior due to the use of modern lighting instead of using the gas lights it was originally designed for,” recalls Sue Baxter. Then it was leased it to the Memorial Opera House Company.
The building itself skillfully combines elements typical of the 1890s into a gracious composition most easily described as Queen Anne. The building has remained remarkably intact, providing an excellent example of this type of facility from the Victorian era. Today, the Memorial Theatre Company produces six theatrical performances each year and hosts community concerts and other events. Sources: Wikipedia, Post Tribune, and PanoramaNOW Entertainment News Printed Edition
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