OURAY – Celebrating its 125th anniversary this year, the Wright Opera House is about to enter a whole new era, as the second phase of a capital campaign gets underway that will be focused on the restoration of the facility.
The Friends of the Wright Opera House, the organization which came together to purchase and preserve the historic structure as a center for the performing arts in 2010, has always conceived of its capital campaign as having two phases: purchase and restoration.
“The purchase was very visible – we went from not owning the building to owning and operating it,” FWOH Executive Director Josh Gowan said.
Since that time, there has been an undercurrent of urgency to get the next phase of the capital campaign underway, so that the much-anticipated restoration phase can begin.
Making visible progress toward restoration goals actually makes it easier to raise money, Gowan said.
So, with the FWOH board’s blessing, Gowan has started rolling out small but noticeable improvements at the Opera House. These projects aren’t structural in nature, but will offer a big bang for the buck in terms of the experience people have when they enter the historic building. Recent improvements include the construction of a new sound booth to protect the Opera House’s state of the art sound system, and a delicate, painstaking effort to remove decades’ worth of paint and plaster to expose one of the beautiful historic brick walls inside the theater.
Gowan is particularly excited about a new box office which is currently under construction on the ground level of the building. The box office renovation will create a functional workspace for ticket sales and information.
“It’s the first step to a series of new projects,” Gowan explained. The projects can be sorted into two categories. First come the “access projects” which focus on improving access to the theater – ticketing, installing an elevator on three full levels, and redoing the stairs up to the theater level.
The elevator, slated for installation in 2014, will come up through the concessions area on the upper level, necessitating the reconfiguration of the upstairs lobby.
“Each project, once complete, will get the Wright ready to receive people more comfortably,” Gowan said. “Then we can focus on improving the theater itself.”
Within the theater, another series of projects awaits, including the construction of balconies and newly-configured walls to open up more seating.
“It has been such a juggling act,” Gowan said. “It’s funny how in old buildings, there are so many little projects that are all connected. Just when you focus on one thing, you need to account for something else. The projects are so tied together.”
Full restoration of the Wright Opera House will come in phases over the next five to seven years as projects and their dependencies are established and budgeted for in advance.
The full restoration of the box office and staircase, as well as the installation of the elevator, is budgeted to cost $250,000. With $60,000 currently in the bank for the elevator, FWOH is tasked with raising the difference prior to getting started on the elevator and staircase project.
In addition to the box office construction that is underway, FWOH is also in the process of coordinating restoration of its roof, funded by community donations and a grant from the State Historical Fund. A second grant application to restore the building’s foundation has been submitted to the State Historical Fund and is awaiting approval.
Ultimately, Gowan said, the goal is to demonstrate that the Wright is an integral part of the community. The theater seems to be fulfilling this purpose already. In just the past two weeks, community members have packed the house for performances, ranging from Fifth Grade Shakespeare and a student piano recital to two performances of Weehawken Dance’s spring show and a professional jazz concert.
With the second annual Summer Music Series just around the corner, the schedule at the Wright shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon.
“We stand by the philosophy that the more events we have, and the more we make this a community venue, the more the community will see the potential of what this place can be,” Gowan said. “We view the Opera House as part of the community, and that’s what this is about. It’s up to us, all of the community, to take ownership of it and make this restoration happen.”
Information about FWOH’s capital campaign and restoration projects can be found by visiting the Wright online at http://thewrightoperahouse.org.