The city purchased the Strong City Opera House (Auditorium/Theatre) building in the fall of 2000. Restoration of the building is planned. Grants and donations are being sought as the City does not have the financial resources to undertake the entire project.
The following is compilation of history that has been gathered.
The Strong City Musical and Literary Association, Inc., was formed on January 4, 1900. The main objective of the group was to obtain funding through the sale of shares in order to construct an Opera House in Strong City. The architect John Frew drew the designs and determined the cost estimate of $4000 for the new building. The Association sold shares at $10 a share to raise approximately $6000.
On May 4, 1900, the bid for the mason work was let to a local contractor. The dimensions of the building were 50 feet wide by 80 feet long. P.J. Norton received the bid to construct the actual building. The building was constructed based upon the Kansas City Plan. Native Chase County limestone was used in the construction. Norton contracted the Rettiger Brothers for stonemason work. Construction continued on the building through 1900 and early 1901.
The main floor of the building is sloping as is the balcony. Together, they have a seating capacity of 1000. The building was so constructed that every movement on the stage can be seen by the entire audience. Acoustics are so perfect that every sound can be heard throughout. The stage is large and convenient with the latest style of scenery. The ceiling is pressed tin and painted in an artistic manner. Chairs are mahogany color in parquet, while those in the parquet circle, are of the some pattern except finished in oak. The ballroom below is large, well-ventilated and has an excellent dance floor. Numerous doors in the building allow for rapid exit in case of emergency.
On April 19, 1901, The Strong City Opera House had it's grand opening. The opening night proved to be a huge success. Enterainment was provided by the famous Modoc Club and John Marshall Band, both of Topeka, KS. Afterwards the ballroom downstairs was opened for dancers. The Santa Fe Railroad made a special one fare round trip rate for the grand opening from all points between Topeka, Newton, Abilene, and Strong City. It was said that the Strong City Opera House could be favorably compared to any others and that Strong City had done itself proud.
Through it's heyday, the Opera House provided the citizens of Strong City with entertainment such as: The Womanless Wedding, John Philip Sousa Band, Ben-Hur, Damon and Pythias, The Kodak Komedy Kompany's A Mountain Waif, The Kelties, The Monto Cristo play, and numerous recitals.
At some point, prior to 1921, the City of Strong City purchased the Opera House. The ballroom floor was replaced in 1921 and dedicated on Labor Day, with a huge celebration. D.L. Underwood leased the upstairs portion of the building to be used as a movie theatre in January 1925. The lower level of the Auditorium was used as a community center.
The building has fallen in disrepair over the years with the roof collapsing on October 25, 2000.
The plan is to restore the building to the original or nearly original condition and have it available for community fine arts use, movies, Dinner Theatre, receptions, meetings, cold storage units for commodities, Information Center and as a tourist attraction. Work will be done in stages, as the funds are available. The first phase has been completed with the stone walls being repaired. Phase 2, the new roof was completed on June 15, 2010. Emporia Construction and Remodeling received the bid of $95,000 to install steel support beams and construct the new metal roof. This project was funded by a Scenic Byway Grant of $44,000, funds raised by the Strong City Preservation Alliance and State Tax Credits. The time has come to begin raising funds for Phase 3. This phase will include windows, doors, etc to completely secure the building.
There are only a handful of old Opera Houses still in existence in Kansas and this theatre would become an attraction for many. Application for State Historic status with the Kansas Historical Society has been approved.
The community has indicated that they fully support this project. We believe it will be of great benefit to Strong City, the community and the State of Kansas.
All offers of information or financial and other support will be appreciated. A Strong City Theatre Fund has been set up at the city offices.
For related articles on the Strong City Opera House see: Chase County GenWeb
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