History of Opera House
1993 - National Register of Historic Places
2000 - Restoration Committee Formed
2003 - 501(c)3 status
2006 - Windows replaced to meet historical guidelines
2009 - Elevator installed
2010 - Rebuilt stairs, gypcrete 1st floor, rooms framed in; Receive I-Jobs Main Street $1.5 million grant
2011 - Restoration of roof, installation of geothermal heating & cooling, Tin Ceiling restored, new sidewalk, paint outside
2012 - Grand Opening
2013 - IA "Preservation at its Best" for Best Community Effort
2017 - America Small Business Champion by SCORE
2017 - Adams County Chamber of Commerce Business of the Year
2018 - SCORE Outstanding Small Business Community Impact Award
2019 - Presenter at League of Historic American Theaters in Philadelphia
2020 - Restored Windows
2021 - Gutters Rebuilt
ACT I ~ Early 1900's History
In 1886, the corner of 8th and Davis Avenue bustled with activity when it housed the National Bank, a general merchandise store and a photo gallery. Its location across from Corning's Central Park overlooked the rest of the business district. Then a fire swept through the core of the business district and destroyed the bank building as well as a good portion of the businesses south of 8th Street. The site then sat empty for five years. Recognizing the need for adequate venues for entertainment, local businessman, Frederick Charles Reese, dedicated himself to providing the community with an opera house. In 1901, he chose the location and built in 1902. The building incorporated remnants of its burned out predecessor. Using the footprint of the National Bank, the new building had a raised basement and a cut-corner entrance. A commercial establishment was to occupy the first floor, while the upper story was intended for the Opera House. The Corning Opera House functioned solely as a live stage theater until at least 1914. By 1921, it had become a movie theater with occasional live performances. The last known production staged at the Opera House was Blue Heaven directed by Milo Green in 1934. Ticket prices were typical of the region and time, 25, 35 and 50 cents. The 724-seat house had a proscenium arch, a 28-foot stage, wing and drop scenery and was illuminated by electricity.
ACT II ~ Restoration History
In 2000 a group of dreamers created a restoration committee. Throughout the years many bake sales, soup suppers, and grants raised funds toward the lofty goal. In 2006 the windows were restored and the roof sealed to stop leakages. The elevator from the first floor to the second floor was installed in 2009. Other progress was made in reinforcing the basement and leveling the first floor with gypcrete. We reached $500,000 in restoration progress. On August 16, 2010, the non-profit board received a $1.5 million Main Street Iowa I-Jobs grant. That was the push needed to fully restore. The restoration project total of $3.5 million dollars resulted in these improvements: a new roof; geothermal heating & cooling installation; auditorium tin ceiling restored & hand painted to original colors; drywall installed in the annex dressing rooms, main floor offices and meeting rooms, and the grand auditorium; hard wood floors stripped and re-stained; new doors; window pairs; walls painted; audio/video/lighting equipment installed; and carpet and tile flooring laid. June 2012 found the "grand lady" ready to meet her public.
ACT III ~ Ready
The Grand Opening was April 5 & 6, 2012, featuring the Ron Cooley Trio with Jeff Millhollin, a local attorney who wrote several songs and was accompanied by Omaha musicians.
Act IV - Progress
Over 45,00 people have used the building in the 8 years since the restoration. The building has been used for weddings, receptions, meetings, baby showers, bridal showers, vendor fairs, craft retreats, dances, family reunions, class reunions, meet & greet presidential candidates, sip & strum, youth musical, community theater, live entertainment and so much more! 2019 the opera house was used 197 days!
Act V - Covid, partial shutdown
Then Covid hit in March of 2020. For the entire 2020 we only had 12 events. A couple events were held with social distancing, using pool noodles between patrons. Hand sanitizing stations were added on each floor. The building still needed repairs and all windows were replaced the summer of 2020. The gutters were rebuilt the summer of 2021. Grateful for all the grant funds we received!
Act VI - Recovery
As of September 2021, the recovery is slow and long, cancellations of rentals and concerts are still occurring. The Board of Directors decided to follow the state of Iowa's health guidelines in September 2021, so masks are optional and there is no social distancing. Donations are accepted to help with the 21+ months of loss.