Havre de Grace Opera House Now Open
After beginning renovations of the historic building in 2014, the curtain was raised at the new 203-seat Cultural Center at the Opera House in Havre de Grace on Aug. 6 with a sold-out performance by the local theater company, Tidewater Players. The inaugural Grand Week included a film featuring a musical icon whose daughter lives in Havre de Grace, a Broadway performer sharing her skills with local performers, vintage jazz, the Concertmaster of the National Philharmonic and so much more!
Funding from numerous private and public sources supported this project including the citizens of Havre de Grace who, in 2016, overwhelmingly supported a bond bill that ensured the project’s completion. The newly renovated building will serve more than 20,000 people annually, bringing the highest quality entertainment to the community and the region. The historic theater will be used for local and professional plays, live music, arts performances, dance, film, arts education, youth programming, local events, private receptions, conferences and gatherings. We hope there will even be some opera. Some of the key features of the structure include:
• An atrium that houses the lobby and new elevator
• Theater seating capacity of over 200
• Second-floor state-of-the-art theater with the latest audio/visual equipment installed
• First-floor public restrooms and dressing rooms
• A ‘black box’ space on the first floor for conference, rehearsals and smaller presentations
• First-floor art gallery
• First-floor box office and administrative office
An Opera House? Yes. But it’s not all about opera. Opera has very rarely been performed in the former Havre de Grace Opera House. But in 1870 when it was built, the use of the word “opera” was more politically correct than “theater” or “music hall.” Such entities were considered morally corrupt. During this part of America’s entertainment history, opera was considered to be the product of high civilization and a respectable form of entertainment. Thus, the words “opera house” preserved the moral standing of the theatrical house, even though the entertainment inside was the same as in any music hall or theater of the time. Many American communities built opera houses.
The three-level building was constructed in 1870 and was first used by the public in 1871. The original use of the building was as a grade school on the first floor and an opera house/theater on the second and third floors. It would continue being used as the city’s grade school until 1897, at which time the new Havre de Grace grade school (at the west end of Congress Avenue, current site of HdG High School) was completed. When the school moved out, the government moved in. The building would house the Havre de Grace city government from 1897-1993. During this 96-year period, the second floor continued to serve as an opera house/theater, dance hall, concert venue and meeting room for various civic organizations. Being the city’s civic building, it would often serve as a backdrop for campaign stops. In 1912, past-President Theodore Roosevelt gave a speech from the front steps of the building in his bid for president. It must be noted that the building suffered a fire in the early 1920s and the upper floors were badly damaged. As a result, the third floor was removed and a roof was constructed, capping the building to just two levels.
Many entities came together to support this incredible project, including the Havre de Grace Opera House Foundation Board, State of Maryland, Harford County, City of Havre de Grace, the Maryland Historical Trust, Lower Susquehanna Heritage Greenway, Phyllis & Louis Friedman (Stack & Store Self Storage), WXCY 103.7FM, APG Federal Credit Union, seat sponsors, hundreds of donors, and the citizens of Havre de Grace. The project was initiated and supported under the administration of Mayor Wayne Dougherty and has been supported to completion by the administration of Mayor William Martin and past and present City Council members.
The Havre de Grace Arts Collective (Arts Collective), a newly formed 501(c)(3) organization created to address the cultural and economic needs of Havre de Grace and the surrounding region, will provide oversight of the Cultural Center as well as the Arts and Entertainment (A&E) District and the Arts by the Bay Gallery. Learn more by visiting HdgArtsCollective.org or OHHdg.org. I95