Thursday, Oct 18, 2018
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Pemberville Opera House aims for $25,000 from online voting

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PEMBERVILLE - If the steps leading to the "theater on the second floor" are too daunting for some visitors, staff members at the Pemberville Opera House find a way to get them upstairs.

"We carry people up," said Carol Bailey, programming director. "If we have people who really want to see something, the volunteer firemen are across the street and we call on them."

What opera house officials would like to do is install an elevator to make the facility accessible to everyone.

It's an expensive proposition - estimates range from $150,000 to $200,000 - but Ms. Bailey is hoping to land $25,000 to put toward the cause through the National Trust for Historic Preservation's "This Place Matters" community challenge.

The historic site that gets the most votes gets $25,000 to use any way it sees fit, with one exception: The money can't be used for demolition.

Although Ms. Bailey acknowledges that the nationwide contest is a long shot, she figures it's worth a try.

"After all, we are the little town that can," she said. "This historical society took the opera house, which was absolutely, completely in ruin, back in 1999, got a $40,000 grant from the state, and with contributions from people, the historical society raising money, and a group of volunteers, that whole place was restored within 10 months and dedicated in October, 1999."

"It's a phenomenal facility," Ms. Bailey said. "It really, really is. We have concerts and shows 15 to 20 times a year. We're really making a comeback with it."

Todd Sheets, co-business manager for the opera house, said casting a vote for the opera house is simple and has no strings attached. Supporters can go to either the opera house's Web site, pembervilleoperahouse.org, or to the National Trust's Web site, preservationnation.org, and cast ballots. One vote may be cast per e-mail address. Voting ends Sept. 15.

"We need all the help we can get," Mr. Sheets said. "We would love to receive $25,000. It's only the start [for an elevator], but it would be a nice boost to make it happen."

In a 2008 column in American Antiquities Journal on Ohio's opera houses and theaters, Michael Hurwitz said the Pemberville Opera House is restored very nearly to its original condition of the early 1890s, when locals went to see plays, musicals, and traveling medicine shows.

"Without question it is the oldest operating opera house in the state of Ohio, and a shining example of what can be accomplished with love and dedication by the citizens of any given community," wrote Mr. Hurwitz, founder of historicoperahouses.org.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:

jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-724-6129.

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