2017-04-19 / Front Page

DPS wins prestigious prize for restoration of opera house

Indiana Landmarks, a private nonprofit organization that saves historic places, announced Delphi Preservation Society as the winner of its annual Cook Cup for Outstanding Restoration for its transformation of the 1865 Delphi Opera House. According to an announcement by Indiana Landmarks, the award will be presented at its annual Rescue Party on April 29 in Indianapolis.

“Delphi Preservation Society took on a basket case in 1996. This qualifies as a heroic restoration. We also admire how the society put the opera house to use in a way that benefits the entire community,” notes Carl Cook, Indiana Landmarks’ board chairman and head of the Cook Cup selection committee.

When Delphi Preservation Society (DPS) bought the opera house on the courthouse square in 1996, the third-floor theater had been shuttered for more than 80 years, closed by the fire marshal. Roof leaks left the theater ceiling a soggy, collapsing state. Pigeons roosted on the shipping crates and discarded merchandise that filled the once-grand hall. The nonprofit group used volunteer labor to restore the retail storefronts.

Beginning in 2000, DPS reinforced the ceiling truss, restored the main façade, and recruited an artist to open a gallery in one of the retail bays. Total restoration of the opera house was the centerpiece of Delphi’s $20 million Stellar Communities proposal in 2012. From that state program award, DPS received a $2.6 million matching grant that funded the remaining restoration of the historic structure, including the theater, and construction of a three-story addition across the back of the building to accommodate accessible restrooms, an elevator, fire stairs, a banquet room, catering kitchen, dressing and green rooms, and lobby.

“Delphi Preservation Society recognized the Stellar Communities grant as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to completely bring back a building that was central to the community and to Delphi’s revitalization strategy,” Anita Werling, former DPS president and full-time volunteer who spearheaded the restoration, said.

The restored theater opened late in 2015. DPS financed the $1.7 million match and is launching a capital campaign to retire the debt. Barry Knechtel, AIA, of KJG Architecture, Inc. in West Lafayette was the lead designer of the restoration and the addition.

“In the 1880s, the theater was renovated in high Victorian style, with many decorative wallpapers. Five of the original wallpapers were recreated by Aesthetic Interiors in Wabash.

“We selected commercially available papers reminiscent of the originals for the rest,” Werling notes.

“The selection committee was especially impressed by the attention to detail in this aspect of the restoration. It’s a place that’s worth seeing in person at a performance or on a tour,” says Marsh Davis, president of Indiana Landmarks.

The opera house attracts people from out-of-town, and restaurants and shops stay open to accommodate the audiences when it hosts reunions, weddings, proms, and corporate meetings, as well as performances and tours. Sara Daly-Brosman, the lone paid staff person, handles rentals and books performances. Volunteers tackle most other tasks, from working in the box office, checking coats, cleaning, and selling concessions to fixing problems, and handling sound and lights for performances.

“The opera house creates a vibrancy that didn’t exist before, and more pride in the community,” Delphi Mayor Shane Evans said. “Young people who always said they would leave are moving back now or investing here,” Evans observes.

Indiana Landmarks inaugurated the Cook Cup for Outstanding Restoration in 2007, when the prize went to the award’s namesake family in honor of its transformation of the West Baden and French Lick Springs hotels in southern Indiana. Carl Cook will present the Cook Cup at the Rescue Party, an annual benefit for Indiana Landmarks’ Endangered Places programs, following a brief video highlighting the restoration of the Delphi Opera House and its impact on the community. Tickets for the April 29 event must be purchased in advance at rescueparty17.eventbrite.com or by calling (317) 639-4534.

Return to top