FREDONIA — The 1891 Fredonia Opera House Performing Arts Center touted four recently completed projects at a Friday morning event.
The new two-piece marquee, one of the completed projects, was officially lit for the first time. The projects also include:
¯ Restoration of 67 windows in the theatre, reconstructing the sashes and replacing the glass with 1/4-inch thick laminated glass, improving the windows’ energy efficiency and sound insulation. Along with the window replacement came the installation of new window treatments inside the theatre;
¯ Upgrades and improvements to the Opera House HVAC system, including the installation of a new, larger chiller; and
¯ Remodeling and expanding 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.
The projects were funded with a grant from the state. The grant has funded $841,000 in work so far.
“This project, along with the Barker Commons project, are an excellent example of how we are bringing Fredonia back to its historic excellence,” Fredonia Mayor Doug Essek said.
Opera House Vice President Sheila Hahn called the marquee “a project many years in the making” and “the crown jewel of the courthouse.” She cited Essek and the Fredonia Board of Trustees, as well as former Mayor Athanasia Landis, Opera House Director Rick Davis and economic development specialist Travis Gordon, as keys to the process of getting the project done.
“When the state was slow in disbursing the funds that had been awarded and there was concern about the contractors not getting paid in a timely manner, the village trustees approved bonding the money temporarily so that work could continue, regardless of the delay,” Hahn said. “The trustees did this without truly having 100% assurance that the money wouldn’t be withdrawn by the state because of COVID.”
Longtime Opera House supporter Dick Gilman, who was named the first president of its board in 1993 and was crucial to its renovation, recalled the initial effort to open the facility up. He remembered lying on his back on a chaise lounge atop scaffolding, painting details in the ceiling with a quarter-inch paint brush.
“Part of that vision was, indeed, to have a marquee,” Gilman said. “Always from the very first day we got together, we said, we need something out there, we need a marquee. It’s with great pleasure that I can see we finally have brought that part of the vision to the reality, and the marquee is out here.”
The Opera House had a marquee many years ago when it was a movie theater, but it was removed when the cinema closed in the late 1970s. The building, which is attached to the Fredonia Village Hall, deteriorated through the earl and mid-1980s to the point where there was serious talk of demolition. Restoration work on the building, spearheaded by the Fredonia Preservation Society, began in 1985.
Noting that the opera house directors are always looking ahead to a new project because they are in an old building, Davis previewed the next job: Replacing the seats.
Sized for the smaller bodies of a century ago, the seats are uncomfortably small for most people today. The opera house wanted to replace them in the last project, but that got cut over funding worries.
Now, “it looks like there will be some funds left on the grant that will enable us to work on the seats,” Davis said. “This should make a lot of our patrons really happy.”