The Thomaston Opera House prepares for major renovations
The town of Thomaston in conjunction with the Thomaston Opera House Commission, Friends of the Thomaston Opera House and Landmark Community Theatre are preparing for significant renovations going out to bid this year with work beginning in 2024. The planning began for the renovations in 2018 when Paul B. Bailey Architect, along with Nextstage Design and other consultants were engaged to study the existing conditions of the historic Thomaston Opera House and provide a report detailing needed upgrades. The report recommended three significant construction phases to address all identified needs. With the reward of a $3,500,000 grant from the state of Connecticut Department of Economic Development in 2021, a building committee was formed by the town of Thomaston to oversee the project. The committee consists of 8 residents of Thomaston dedicated to preserving and protecting this historic landmark and community space for the present and future enjoyment of the facility. This committee has been working over the last several months preparing to go out to bid on Phase 1.
Phase One: Phase one of the proposed construction addresses the back-of-stage needs. It includes a new freight elevator and new corridor that connects the elevator directly to the stage. This elevator would be sized and positioned to allow larger scenery elements to be utilized in productions than are currently possible. This elevator would serve the additional critical purpose of providing handicap accessibility to the stage. This phase would include the renovation of the backstage dressing rooms, wardrobe room and green room areas to include a modernized green room, wardrobe room and two separate dressing rooms, each with accessible bathrooms that include showers. The accompanying structural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, fire protection and code-compliance elements for the items listed above are included in this phase. All elements of phase one construction are critical in attracting larger and more prominent theatrical productions to the Opera House than is currently possible. It will also provide better access for renovations and restoration in the auditorium to follow. Finally, phase one would include the appropriate repairs and restoration of all the historic finishes in the auditorium’s ceiling and coves.
Restoring the Legacy of the Thomaston Opera House
In the heart of Thomaston, Connecticut, a treasure of historical and cultural significance stands proudly—The Thomaston Opera House. Built in 1884, it was envisioned as a cultural center and community gathering space. Its majestic ceiling coffers, graceful coves, ornate proscenium arch, and beautifully adorned walls welcomed all. For decades, the Opera House served as a stage for theatrical performances that stirred emotions and a venue for community gatherings that brought neighbors closer. It was the soul of Thomaston, a living testament to the power of the arts to inspire, educate, and unite. However, as time marched on, the original beauty of the Thomaston Opera House began to fade. By the 1930s, it was briefly transformed into a movie house, and by the mid-1900s, it had fallen into significant disrepair.
Sadly, we almost lost this gem when it closed in the mid 1900’s amid significant deterioration. It was destined for demolition in the 1960’s when a last-ditch effort by community volunteers saved it. Thanks to their unwavering dedication, some initial restoration work breathed new life into the Opera House. In 1972, it rightfully earned a place on the National Register of Historic Places. It was given a second chance to continue its legacy of inspiring generations. Interestingly, Blessed Father Michael McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus, recognized the Opera House's potential early on. In the late 1880s, he produced shows that taught vital lessons about community, harnessing the power of the arts to strengthen the bonds that held Thomaston together. In 1968, during a rededication ceremony, the renowned opera star Marian Anderson shared words that still resonate today: "Make this a beautiful lighthouse in a sea of those who know not where they are going. Make this a living thing. Make it a thing that will stand out in the world long after we are gone." And stand out it does.
Fast forward fifty-five years, and the Thomaston Opera House is a thriving hub of artistic activity. It hosts five Community Theatre productions annually, entertaining over 18,000 audience members. It’s home to Graduation celebrations, silent films, dance recitals, theatre organ concerts and a rich array of educational programs, weaving a rich cultural tapestry that unites and enriches our community. Yet, despite its impressive activity, the Thomaston Opera House languishes in disrepair. The ceiling crumbles, artwork obscured by netting, walls stained by water, and the once-ornate proscenium bears the scars of time. Safety concerns loom large, and accessibility for those with mobility issues remains a challenge. The 3 phase renovation plan aims to restore this historical treasure to its former glory. The project includes restoring the original artwork, installing an elevator for better accessibility, rebuilding the stage, eliminating safety hazards and enhancing the patron comfort with added bathrooms and improved seating.
Ultimately, when completed the Thomaston Opera House will be a state-of-the-art entertainment facility. These upgrades will not only breathe new life into the Opera House but also attract producers and artists from far and wide, diversifying the productions we can host, boosting tourism, and invigorating our local and regional economies. People interested in learning more about the project or to support it with time, talent or treasurers are encouraged to go to: www.landmarkcommunitytheatre.org or www.friendsofthomastonoperahouse.org