The curtain was about to fall on the Brooklyn Opera House when a group of concerned citizens stepped in to breathe new life into the century-old building in the heart of downtown.
They started applying for renovation grants in 2018, formed the nonprofit Brooklyn Community Development, and bought the opera house from the city for $1.
The stage is quirky, but much of the Brooklyn Opera House is new and refreshed, thanks to a 13-month renovation. The venue, in the heart of downtown Brooklyn, Iowa, reopened with limited events and pandemic protocols in place in June 2020, but on Friday, May 7, 2021, Grammy-nominated country singer/songwriter George Ducas will perform in concert. (photo by the Neumann Brothers)
“It was starting to become a burden on the city, so it worked well for everyone to have a nonprofit owning and running it,” said Laura Manatt, 41, of Brooklyn, who is Vice President of Brooklyn Community Development. plank. She also manages the opera house and the adjacent Michael J. Manatt Community Center, named in honor of her late father-in-law.
The opera house was closed after the ground collapsed in 1998. Another group bought the building that year, installed a new roof, and ripped out the termite-damaged ground. The set for a collapse-interrupted production of “Charlie Brown” was still on stage when the most recent renovations began, Manatt said.
“There have been several attempts to save it, but nothing has really taken off so far,” she noted, adding that if a new roof hadn’t been installed 20 years ago, the building would probably have been irreparable.
The opera house was renovated from top to bottom between May 2019 and June 2020, when it began its new act as a performance hall, events center and cinema. Capacity has been reduced from the original 250 seats to a new, more spacious 225 seats, and a new concrete floor has been installed, which will not become a meal for hungry termites.
The building was essentially a shell when work began, Manatt said. Between the installation of new seats, heating and cooling systems, movie projection equipment and all other front and backstage amenities, the renovation totaled approximately $4 million.
This included closing the driveway between the historic site and the community center, which opened in April 2008 and seats 350 to 400 people. The precinct has created an events center campus where large groups can use both buildings.
Or: 105 Jackson Street, Brooklyn, Iowa
Event: Country singer/songwriter George Ducas in concert
When: 8 p.m. on Friday, May 7
Tickets: $25, brooklynoperahouse.com/on-stage/concerts
Location information: brooklynoperahouse.com/
The grants kick-started fundraising efforts, with a $100,000 state grant for Community Catalyst building remediation; a $500,000 Enhance Iowa grant; and $50,000 from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources for asbestos remediation and recycling/reuse of materials removed from the building, Manatt said.
But all is not new. The history of the building has also been preserved.
A walkway was closed to connect the historic Brooklyn Opera House to the Michael J. Manatt Community Center, which opened in 2008. (Photo Neuman Bros.)
“Because this is a historic tax credit process and going through the National Park Service to get historic designation, we have retained as many historic elements as possible in the building,” she said. declared. “While the balcony was not in as good condition as it is now, the curvature and design of the facade and some of the beams are the same as you would have seen long ago.
“Believe it or not, the seating area was damaged by termites, but the extremities were never staged, so the stage is all original, the walkway and fly are all original, but we obviously made them safer so you were comfortable walking up there,” she said. “The tin ceilings are all original, and they re-stacked the bricks that were starting to move to the front of the building, and folded up the whole building to make the building more structurally sound.”
This concession stand serves moviegoers at the renovated Brooklyn Opera House in downtown Brooklyn, Iowa. (photo by the Neumann Brothers)
Despite the pandemic, first and second run movies, several wedding receptions and the school prom have been held there, with safety precautions and reduced capacity in place. Moviegoers can also rent the theater for $150 to host a private party and bring in the movies they want to see.
The biggest act to hit the stage in years comes to town on Friday, when the spotlight shines on Grammy-nominated country singer/songwriter George Ducas.
“I’m excited to be back in Iowa after too long,” Ducas said in a prepared statement. “I have great memories of playing venues like the Iowa State Fair and I’m thrilled to not only play memorable hits, but also play some of my music from the current ‘Yellow Rose Motel’ album. .”
Her first two albums sent six songs to the Billboard charts, including her Top 10 hit, “Lipstick Promises.” He also wrote songs for Garth Brooks, the Eli Young Band, Dixie Chicks, Trisha Yearwood and other country stars.
An events complex is an important addition to the city’s vitality, Manatt said.
The site has 10 part-time staff and community volunteers, including high school students. Admissions, concessions and donations will keep the doors open, as well as word-of-mouth to build excitement for the event, she noted.
“If you come to downtown Brooklyn right now, it’s a very, very nice, well-kept little town,” Manatt said. “There were only a few buildings left that really needed a facelift, and the opera house was probably the most visible. But that was really a catalyst for our little restaurant across the street and our bar down the street.
“Seeing the vibrancy and energy of the community when we host events is really exciting,” she said. “It’s a nice little town to have such a cool venue.”
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