Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Opera houses and circus tents

Monday's visit to Adams County included a drive around downtown Corning and a quick stop at the newly renovated Corning Opera House Cultural Center. That building opened officially in June after a multi-year $3.5 million renovation project. Compare that to the $15,000 original cost of the structure back in 1902.

Corning, like Chariton, is a Main Street Iowa city --- but has been involved in the program since the 1990s, so the results of some amazing, but slow and incremental, transformations are now evident. And continuing.

The interior photos here to not do the opera house justice --- lights were low in the main auditorium and my flash inadequate. Plus, the entire building had been utilized for a big wedding over the weekend and cleanup for a musical performance Thursday was just beginning.

The building, which until renovation commenced always had contained commercial operations on its first floor with opera hall on upper levels, was a gift. But the amount of work required to return it to public use, intimidating. Stabilization, structural support and a new roof came first, then work on the interior.

The first floor was reconfigured entirely to include a spacious lobby, new stairway to the original opera house lobby, $130,000 elevator, ADA-compliant restrooms, a large public meeting room, serving kitchen,  catering kitchen and more. The opera hall itself plus stage and staging areas were largely intact, but had not been used for their intended purposes since the 1930s. The original lobby had been divided into apartments which stretched into the auditorium.

Part of the project included purchase of the second floor of the building east of the opera house, originally City Hall, where up-to-date dressing rooms and a dance rehearsal room were inserted. Installation of professional-level lighting and sound systems also required a substantial investment.

The geothermal heating/cooling system is based under Corning's Central Park, which is immediately across the street to the west.

The volunteer opera house staff is committed to booking a public (revenue-generating) event weekly for the building (intimidating in the small county seat of one of Iowa's smaller counties, population-wise). This week, Nashville singer/songwriter Terry Smith will perform at 7 p.m. Thursday ($10 admission). If you're interested in more, the Opera House Web site is here.

Stepping out the Opera House door, I was intrigued by this grouping of buildings on the corner to the southwest, looking (to me) a little like a circus tent, minus the roof, or something Disney might have installed in a theme park dedicated to recreating the look of the quintessential small town.

Corning also is a recent recipient of a Community Development Block Grant to fund renovation of facades in the Main Street district and that work is ongoing. Obviously nothing has been done to the corner building, but work on the building just to the south is under way.

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