- Associated Press - Friday, April 15, 2016

GREENSBORO, Ala. (AP) - Gilded tin ceilings, stained-glass windows, old wood and brick walls make up one of Alabama’s time capsules - the 1903 Greensboro Opera House.

Covered in layers of dust from years of neglect after it was abandoned on the eve of World War II, the second-floor theater is waiting to be restored to its former glory.

But the ground floor is the gateway to that restoration.

The ground floor of the opera house, once occupied by two retail stores, was recently renovated to create one large reception area that will serve as the entrance to the upstairs theater.

A gala will be held at the opera house, located on Main Street in downtown Greensboro, on Saturday night for donors who gave money toward the project.

The event will include refreshments, a tour of the ground floor and the theater on the second floor and entertainment throughout the night.

“The purpose of the gala is a celebration in honor of our donors that have enabled us to . complete this restoration,” said Winnifred Cobbs, president of the board of directors of the Greensboro Opera House.

The restoration began in 2006 with stabilization work after three years of fundraising.

Layers of linoleum covered the floor, paint was peeling from the ceiling, which had a large gap where the stairs leading to the second floor had once been, and steel poles supported the ceiling where a brick wall once separated the two retail stores on the bottom floor.

Now, the floors are covered in antique, heart pine wood, pressed tin ceilings adorn the ceiling and the staircase is a centerpiece with a large chandelier hanging above.

“Now, it’s just absolutely gorgeous. It looks classic. It does preserve what was there and does it beautifully,” Cobbs said. “This facility downstairs is going to be wonderful. Our plan for this facility is the whole thing will be a single facility. We want this to be used as a multipurpose cultural center.”

Cobbs said the plan is to put the ground floor to use for meetings, small performances, art exhibits, lectures and other events while the upstairs is renovated.

She said she hopes the restored facility will revitalize downtown and become an economic asset for Greensboro.

The restoration, along with the purchase price, cost a little more than $500,000, all of which came from local residents, people with a special interest in Greensboro and a small number of grants, she said.

Cobbs said the Hale County district judge at the time, William “Sonny” Ryan, had the idea to try to purchase the opera house and restore it in an effort to revitalize the town. A non-profit was then created to buy and restore the building, which was purchased in 2003.

“This is the only one left of its kind in the state of Alabama. We consider this opera house to be almost iconic” because it is a representation of 20th century opera houses that were once in almost every town in the U.S. that have now disappeared, Cobbs said.

“It’s just wonderful to actually have something coming back instead of disappearing.”

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