Local Preservation

I have had a penchant for historic preservation since before I graduated from high school and had my first choice college selected. It really makes me glad to see once beautiful and most recently run down historical buildings experience a rebirth, reuse, re-purpose or even just a revamp. Whether it is to keep the original use of the building intact or to adapt it to the needs of today’s society, it is important to preserve the beauty and the (often endangered) craftsmanship of decades passed.

I came across an article written late last week about the efforts spearheaded by Mayor Thomas M. Menino and the National Trust for Historic Preservation has taken to keep some 20th century gems on the map in the theater district of our dear capital city of Boston, Massachusetts. The work is finished now and the article is about the awards given to the three historic theaters restored. I thought I would take a post to provide some information about one of the theatres.

The Boston Opera House

The Boston Opera House was originally built as a lavish vaudeville theater in 1928. It was built in tribute to Benjamin Franklin Keith, an influential figure in popularizing vaudeville theater.

The Boston Opera House
Photo: Whitney Cox.

The establishment primarily operated as a vaudeville theater until the depression era reduced it to showing only films. As the B. F. Keith Memorial Theatre, it continued to show films until 1965 when it was bought and renamed The Savoy Theatre. It was between 1965 and 1978 when the theater suffered the most abuse by way of poorly informed design and functionality decisions. By 1973 the stage area was bricked up to create a second, smaller theater inside the stage cavity. The two film houses operated that way until 1978 when the property was bought by the Opera Company of Boston.

In 1980, Under the direction of opera great, Sarah Caldwell the building underwent extensive renovations and assumed the name it has today, The Opera House. The house saw some of the most impressive and acclaimed acts in modern opera and theater in the 1980’s. In 1991 the overhead of maintaining the building was too much for the Opera Company of Boston which had previously made productions in rented theaters since 1958. The company closed the doors in 1991 due to the financial troubles and the inability to keep up with the high maintenance building. The degradation of the building continued at a quick pace and in 1995 the building was put on National Trust for Historic Preservation list of 11 Most Endangered Buildings (thankfully!).

In 2002, work began to make The opera house as splendid as it is today. The only completely new part of the building (other than the electrical, mechanical, HVAC, and fire protection systems) is the stagehouse and the attached dressing rooms. The original stage was torn down in favor of state-of-the-art backstage rigging, technology.

Skilled craftsmen and tradesmen restored every element using a meticulous attention to detail. The top-to-bottom restoration included work on sculptural plaster, gold leaf finishes,  marble, paintings and tapestries, grand staircases, chandeliers, walnut and oak paneling. Some other items like historic carpet, seating and silk wall panels were replicated from originals.

The project time frame was only 18 months and the team that worked on the project were the lucky ones to see the first show performed on the new stage. Today, their tireless restoration labor at The Boston Opera House is enjoyed by thousands of patrons every week.

___________________________________________________________________

Restoration Statistics:

  • 30,000 Man-hours of plaster work
  • Four pounds of new gold leaf added to existing gold leaf areas
  • 729 tons of structural steel used for the stage house addition
  • 900 concealed sprinkler heads added
  • 79 miles of new electrical wiring running through 13 miles of conduit
  • 300 restored light fixtures and chandeliers

             

                                       -courtesy of bostonoperahouseonline.com

 

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