The 1891 Fredonia Opera House Performing Arts Center today marked the completion of several major improvement projects and lit up the new marquee over the theatre’s entrance on Temple Street.
The theatre held a special news conference in which it noted completion of four improvement projects paid for by an Empire State Development (ESD) Smart Growth grant from New York state to the Village of Fredonia. The grant, to date, has funded $841,000 in Opera House projects, enabling the theatre to:
• Restore 67 windows in the theatre, reconstructing the sashes and replacing the glass with ¼-inch thick laminated glass, improving the windows’ energy efficiency and sound insulation. Along with the window replacement came the installation of all new window treatments inside the theatre;
• Upgrade and improve the Opera House HVAC system, including the installation of a new, larger chiller;
• Remodel and expand the public restrooms in the basement of the Village Hall, bringing them fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) code for wheelchair access. In addition, motion-controlled LED lighting was installed to increase energy efficiency; and
• Install the new two-piece marquee over the theatre’s Temple Street entrance.
General architect for the projects was Trautman Associates. Primary contractors included: Montante Construction, BECC Electric, Ciancio Mechanical and DV Brown Associates.
Nate Aldrich, former community economic development specialist with the Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation, and Travis Gordon, principal with Urban Vantage, respectively, wrote the initial grant application and coordinated its implementation with the State. Gordon says “The Opera House is one of Fredonia’s best kept secrets, and part of what makes downtown Fredonia so unique. This grant has helped us share this secret with community members by allowing us to design and construct a marquee that also preserves the historic integrity of the building. The grant also helped pay for interior improvements that will help improve the viewing experience for visitors to the Opera House for years to come. We are thankful to have had the opportunity to work on such a transformative project, and we look forward to going to performances in the new and improved Opera House.”
Opera House Board Vice President Sheila Hahn expressed the Opera House’s appreciation to the Village for applying for the grant four years ago, and to the state for making the funds available in the midst of a pandemic. “We are grateful to former Mayor Athanasia Landis, in whose tenure the grant application was initially submitted, and to current Mayor Doug Essek and Village Trustees, who allowed the projects to move forward and found solutions when delays in funding disbursement nearly brought the projects to a halt.”
“We also are grateful to New York State and Empire State Development for providing the funds, which despite being awarded, could very easily have been withdrawn as the COVID-19 pandemic became an all-consuming financial drain on the State.”
Fredonia Mayor Doug Essek notes “it has been a pleasure to be part of this restoration project that has brought back this historic landmark to its original status.”
As part of today’s event, the theatre illuminated the new marquee, which Opera House Executive Director Rick Davis says will go a long way in helping create awareness of and exposure for the Opera House. “In my 16 years at the Opera House, I think I must have heard someone express surprise that Village Hall has a theatre in it at least every other month,” notes Davis. “Not only does this marquee announce loud and clear ‘theatre here,’ it also promotes in a very cost-effective way the venue’s coming events.”
Longtime Opera House supporter Dick Gilman, who was crucial to the venue’s restoration three decades ago and was the very first president of its Board, echoed Davis’ hopes for greater awareness of the theatre. He spoke of the vision held by the Fredonia Preservation Society as it started the restoration in 1985, noting that much of what the Preservation Society had envisioned for the theatre has been accomplished. “Now, it’s up to a new generation to refine that vision for the coming decades. Perhaps that the 1891 Fredonia Opera House Performing Arts Center will become one of the ‘destination sites’ for arts and culture in Western New York!”
Davis notes that the next step in continued improvements to the theatre is replacing the “uncomfortable seats,” which are a source of patron complaints. He says it’s possible this can be accomplished with some remaining funds from the ESDF grant. “We’re looking at replacing the seats with wider, more comfortable seating with the limited amount of funds that remain in the grant. This was the next highest priority project listed in the initial application.”
The Opera House plans to reopen to the public on July 17 for movies and in September for live performances. Coming events, Davis notes, “can be seen on the marquee!”
The 1891 Fredonia Opera House is a member-supported not-for-profit organization located in Village Hall in downtown Fredonia, whose mission is “to present the performing arts for the benefit of our community and region … and providing access to artistic diversity … and high quality programming at an affordable price.”