MARYSVILLE — The Marysville Opera House has never looked so good.
The building has been painted and cleaned, new LED lighting has been installed and new art hung on the walls.
The new tenant — the city of Marysville — sees the century-old building as the linchpin in its plan to bring the arts back to the city.
“It was time for us to introduce some new cultural opportunities within the community,” said Jim Ballew, Marysville’s parks and recreation director.
The city signed a three-year lease for $4,907 per month (including utilities) in January and invested about $30,000 to put in new furnishings, lighting and audio-visual systems. That’s on top of the approximately $80,000 in renovations the owners of the building put into it, Ballew said.
The goal this year is to book 33 weekend events in the building. Right now there are 35 scheduled, ranging from private parties, proms and weddings to programmed events, such as monthly wine and beer tastings, concerts and movies.
“We’re focused on program development but also to maintain the building as a special event facility,” Ballew said.
The first incarnation of the building was constructed by the Independent Order of Odd Fellows shortly after Marysville incorporated in 1891. The all-wood structure burned down in 1910.
The Odd Fellows rebuilt the hall in 1911 on an adjacent lot, this time creating the current free-standing structure from poured concrete. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1982, the only building in Marysville on the list.
The hall has 18-inch thick walls and some of the original leaded glass in the windows and doors, but no insulation, so it remains cold in the winter until it warms up from the people inside, and can get warm in the summer, said Lauren Woodmansee, the city’s recreation coordinator.
Since then the building has been put to a variety of uses. It was a silent movie theater, a roller rink, and at one point there was a shooting range in the basement. It was a community gathering spot where voters approved Prohibition.
It was also a live performance venue at various times in its history, although opera was probably never part of the mix, instead being a general name for venues that hosted music performances and traveling vaudeville shows.
“Apparently Bing Crosby performed here when he was just starting,” Woodmansee said.
When the building was purchased in 1998 by its current owners, it had clearly seen better days.
It’s most recent incarnation had been as the nightclub Cheetahs, said Sherri Williams, who manages and owns the building with her husband, Courtney Williams, and father-in-law, Ken Williams.
“It was Pepto-Bismol pink and you couldn’t even see the interior with all the DJ booths and wallpaper,” Williams said. “There was holographic wallpaper covering most of the woodwork. It was bizarre.”
Hidden under the layers of 1980s disco decor were pressed tin roofs, hardwood fixtures, and other details like a hat-check window in the coat-check closet.
For a decade the Williamses ran an events business out of the hall before the city came looking for a venue to revitalize the arts in Marysville.
The Opera House got its unveiling at the Mayor’s Gala on March 20, and since then the venue has played host to a variety of events, including a “Phantom of the Opera”-themed prom, a Mexican quinceañera complete with mariachi band, a muscular dystrophy “lock-up” fundraiser, a variety of concerts including The David George Tenet 10-piece swing band, and monthly wine- and beer-tastings coupled with live music.
In those cases, the Marysville Sunrise Rotary Club and the Marysville Kiwanis Club purchase and donate the liquor permits and operate the bar, Woodmansee said. The Holiday Inn Express also has donated some rooms for traveling artists, and Honda of Marysville made a financial donation to the restoration.
Starting Sept. 26, the venue will start showing classic movies again with “High Society,” the 1965 romantic comedy starring Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly and Frank Sinatra.
For now Williams said her family is content to continue leasing the Opera House to the city.
“Having the city be the tenant is the best option for preservation, and it opens it up to the public,” Williams said.
“There’s something about the building, when you get the right people for the right purpose, it just has some magic. It really does, and that’s the whole purpose,” she said.