Crews Get to Work on Historic Opera House

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Work to restore the nearly 150-year-old Delphi Opera House is underway. Officials marked the start of the $4.25 million project Wednesday and announced a $200,000 boost for fundraising efforts from the Wisconsin-based Jeffris Family Foundation. August 20, 2014

News Release

DELPHI, Ind. - A $4.25 million restoration and new construction project is under way at the Delphi Opera House, 105-109 S. Washington St., Delphi, with plans for a grand re-opening in late 2015.

Final construction details were unveiled and additional funding received was announced Wednesday (August 20) at a news conference and ceremonial event outside the 10,800-square-foot, three-story historic Italianate building. It was constructed in 1865 and opened with a ball for returning Civil War soldiers.

"Today, we have moved from the drawing board to the hard-hat and sledge-hammer stage," said Greg Norman, president of Delphi Preservation Society Inc., which owns the building.

Indiana Lieutenant Governor Sue Ellspermann, who oversees the Stellar Communities program - a source of $2.5 million in funding for the project - attended the event to congratulate the community on its efforts.

"You are restoring an historical asset that has been part of this community for 150 years," Ellspermann said. "And you are restoring it for meaningful purposes. The Delphi Opera House will serve as an anchor for revitalizing downtown Delphi."

The day brought news of additional funding received - $200,000 from the Jeffris Family Foundation of Janesville, Wisc., which focuses on Midwestern historic preservation projects.

"The foundation challenged the Delphi Opera House in 2012 with this grant, which we could use only after we raised $400,000 in matching funds," said Anita Werling, chair of the Delphi Opera House Advisory Board, which is overseeing the project. "Verification of the match came last week, making that significant gift a fine entry on our contributors’ list."

Some funds are yet to be raised, and various sponsorship opportunities are available, Werling said. "While the contractors do their work, The Delphi Preservation Society will be working to raise the additional monies needed."

Construction, which began in July, will include a 10,000-square-foot addition on the back that will nearly double the building's size. The ground floor will have a lobby, ticket office, event space, fire stairs and an elevator. The second floor will house historic exhibits, multiple-use rooms and a warming kitchen, and the third floor will feature the refurbished stage, moveable seating for 200, concession area and banquet space.

"The Delphi Opera House is a solid structure, an interesting piece of architecture and a worthy challenge," said Kelly Good, architect at Lafayette’s KJG Architecture. "And it soon will be alive with new activities."

Delphi Mayor Randy Strasser predicted the building would quickly become a hub of community and regional events, from arts to weddings, receptions, recitals and more. "The Delphi Opera House will give us a center for all kinds of activities, a place to bring people together. It will also attract visitors, and it will be yet another draw for heritage tourism."

Shelley Lowenberg-DeBoer, founding president and current member of Delphi Opera House Inc., the nonprofit that will oversee program and event scheduling, hailed the advent of construction and announced that the organization is now taking bookings for 2016 events.

"The potential is as grand as the building itself will be, and that’s the beauty of it," she said. "The people of Delphi - and from well beyond - will enjoy entertainment, enrichment and the company of friends, family and guests," she said. "Today, the stage is bare. It awaits program ideas, performers and audiences."

The Delphi Opera House's impact will reach a wide region, said Tetia Lee, executive director of Tippecanoe Arts Federation, a Lafayette-based nonprofit that serves more than 100 arts groups in multiple counties.

"Performance venues and groups that facilitate cultural activities are sustenance for our region’s artists and audiences alike," Lee said. "I predict the Delphi Opera House will be filled with singing, dancing, laughter, joy, and most of all, a feeling of community."

Economic development, too, gets a boost with the project, said Laura Walls, executive director of the Carroll County Economic Development Corp., which assisted with the day's announcement.

"In a recent hotel study, we learned that Delphi is in good stead to land a lodging facility, with the pending opening of the Delphi Opera House," Walls said. She noted that businesses seeking a location look for a community with a vibrant quality of life - good housing, recreation, education and arts. "We've come together to deliver on every one of these. When businesses choose us, they bring good jobs and boost our economy, and we all benefit."

Borrowing a line from Hoosier poet James Whitcomb Riley, who often performed on the

building's upper story stage, the process of transforming what was once known as the Assion-Ruffing City Hall into the Delphi Opera House "is a luxury divine," said Norman, who cited the building’s interesting history and the poet’s line: "To dream the old dreams over is a luxury divine."

In 1882, the grand hall upstairs became the Lathrope & Ruffing Opera House, Norman said. "The opera house's last performance was in 1914—today, 100 years later, it is poised for a grand comeback."

BACKGROUND:

Delphi Opera House

The Building: The Delphi Opera House, as it is known today, 105-109 S. Washington St., Delphi, is a 10,800-square-foot, three-story historic Italianate building formerly known as the Assion-Ruffing City Hall. Not a place of government, the building was named for its grand event hall. It opened in 1865 with a ball for returning Civil War soldiers. In 1882, the grand hall upstairs became the Lathrope & Ruffing Opera House; in those days, opera houses hosted a variety of live performances. Its last event was in 1914, and the stage has largely remained unused since.

Owner: Delphi Preservation Society, founded in 1994 to preserve the architectural and cultural fabric of the greater Delphi area, acquired part of the building in 1996 and the remainder in 2007. Renovations already completed by the society include the fa?ade, 2007-2009, and new roof in 2011. The society’s Opera House Advisory Board is overseeing the construction and reopening.

Restoration/Addition: Construction work to expand and restore the building, now known as the Delphi Opera House, began in 2014. It will include a complete interior restoration and renovation, including a three-story, 10,000-square-foot addition at the back of the building. The interior d?cor will incorporate the findings of a decorative arts analysis, using olive, maroon, gold and black colors. Inside will be:

-Ground floor: a lobby; ticket office; banquet hall for weddings, receptions, dinner theatre performances and other events; restrooms; two sets of fire stairs; and an elevator.

-The second floor will house historic exhibits, an archive room, dressing rooms, warming kitchen, rehearsal space, meeting rooms, offices and more restrooms.

-The third floor will feature a refurbished performance stage, moveable seating for 200, concession area and open space for banquets and other uses.

Timeline: Construction will take about one year. The opening is tentatively set for late 2015. Reservations for 2016 events are now being taken.

Planned Use: The Delphi Opera House will be a regional center for visual and performing arts, classes, banquets, receptions and other community events.

Cost: The renovation and new construction cost will be $4.25 million. Of that, $2.5 million in funding comes from the state of Indiana through its Stellar Communities program. The balance is being raised by the Delphi Preservation S