HISTORIC RENOVATION: The Show Must Go On

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It`s been a big building ever since it was built in 1895, but it`s been eighty years since the E.E. Warren Opera House was a big deal.

Ken Sidey of the Warren Cultural Center says, "My memory of it, especially the upper level was just a derelict building full of pigeons and dirt and peeling wallpaper."

As Sidey tours the place today, ducking past the huge renovation crew, he can`t help but think of his father.

He says, "I came across an editorial that my father wrote.  My father was the newspaper editor here for a lot of years.  And back in 1969 he had written an editorial here urging people to restore the building.

A survey was taken. 'Should the Historic Opera House be restored?' The readers answered 'No.'

The place was once Greenfield`s pride and joy. Home to touring theater acts and bustling retail, but the Depression hit and so did motion pictures at the nearby Grand Theater, and by the mid-30s, it was over. Fortunately, the sturdy brick held together until attitudes changed.

Deena Wells with the E.E. Warren Opera House Association says, "There's decades of history in this facility and once that's gone, it's gone forever."

Wells and Sidey helped spearhead the movement to restore the place, and after years of slow progress, they`re approaching a furious finish.

Wells says, "We might have some spaces that aren't 100% but they will be done shortly."

It`s a multi-million dollar job, funded in part by Chet Culver`s I-Jobs program, and because of that it must be inhabitable by Sunday`s deadline.  Ken Harvey`s crew is everywhere.

He says, "Six or seven different trades with a number of employees per trade."

It`s a labor of love for everyone involved, brushing the coal off this diamond.

Harvey says, "The floors, the parquet floors it's remarkable how the finishes are coming back."

The theater is nearly done and the turret is complete. Yeah, that`s a turret.

Wells says, "The turret is our icon for this whole center and we use that in our logo and a lot of the themes around the facility."

Retail shops, a restaurant and office space rentals will keep the place afloat, but it`s hoped that the real draw will once again be live productions. That`s all to come, but the aesthetic boost has already arrived.

Sidey says, "This is the biggest building on the square--the most prominent--so to see this one coming around, I think, really encourages people.  It really adds the final piece to the square.'

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