Written by Charlie Hughes
Sometimes a site’s success brings with it new challenges. The Pocahontas County Opera House will soon be 20 years out from its original restoration. The Opera House was built in 1910 by J. G. Tilton. The original glory days of this grand facility were short lived. Mr. Tilton ran into financial trouble and the building was sold in 1914. Over the years, it was variously used for church services, as a gymnasium, a roller skating rink, for car sales, and finally for many years as lumber storage. After a huge community effort and a seven year process the rehabilitation of the building from a dilapidated warehouse to its original glory was completed in 1998.
Today the Opera House is Pocahontas County’s preeminent performing arts center, part of the West Virginia Historic Theatre Trail, listed on the historic register, and brings more than two dozen performances to its stage each year, ranging from bluegrass to jazz, folk to world, to musical theater, and everything in between. Additionally, the site brings in funding as a rental for weddings and community events. The facility continues to grow in its mission! This year the Opera House Foundation began kids and teens after-school theater clubs and held its first Kids Theater Camp in July. The extensive use of this historic space has made it vital and relevant to the community. But it sure leads to a lot of ware and tare!
Recently, I looked up at a lighting fixture and noticed a giant green paper clip bent around its decorative tip, remnant of some renter’s decoration rigging. As I looked more closely I found fishing wire, and every sort of banned tape forgotten along pillars, molding, and bead board edges.
18 seasons of touring musical and theatrical groups have signed the walls of the dressing room, a wonderful tribute to the art that has happened within our walls. Unfortunately, more than a few other names have crept in over the years.
The roller shades hung on the 32 windows no longer all roll up. Scuffs on the stain have marred the apron of the stage and ware has left the stage and steps to the balcony with patches of unsealed spongy wood.
Additionally, because the community has come to associate music and theater with this space, donations of everything from pianos to fur coats come to us and our balcony over flows with boxes of items people thought might be useful to the space.
As I pull down tape and tacs, paint away graffiti, and mothball donated costumes of every type, I am thankful for the problems my site grapples with. After a year of service with the Opera House I have come to see how important this space is to the people. Their thoughtlessness in removing décor or thoughtfulness in donating items happens because they think of the space as theirs. So many historic structures won’t be saved and renovated, many more won’t be revitalized. Having completed a list of tlc projects and presented them to the board, I’ve decided to sign on for another year of service here at the Opera House. I am looking forward to reorganizing, touching up paint and stain, and replacing the shades, precisely because this is a place that will continue to be used until it is worn.
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