- Associated Press - Friday, July 29, 2016

LEAD, S.D. (AP) - The Historic Homestake Opera House is set to begin restoration of the theater walls, a major landmark in the building’s recovery from a catastrophic fire in 1984 that gutted the theater and threatened to destroy the entire building.

While past restoration projects focused on the foyer and adjoining rooms, the current goals all center on the theater.

The restoration of the Homestake Opera House is a work in progress, carefully bringing back the grandeur of the building’s original state.

The Homestake Opera House and Recreation Building was constructed by Homestake Gold Mine in 1914, complete with a swimming pool, bowling alley, and billiards room. It also housed the original Phoebe Apperson Hearst Library.

The 1984 fire that destroyed the theater also brought out the civic spirit of Lead’s community.

“(Lead residents) were throwing books out to people in the street with garbage bags in case the fire in the theater got over to that side of the building,” Opera House Executive Director Sarah Carlson told the Black Hills Pioneer (https://bit.ly/2ahp0x4 ).

This community spirit of preservation is still alive as restoration efforts focus on the damaged theater.

Today the square proscenium arch over the stage is bare brick, still scorched black by the fire. The scorched and tattered walls still show long, black marks from the leaping flames, and scrollwork corner pieces of plaster are battered and chipped, some destroyed entirely.

“Everything that you see that does not look new, is not new,” said Carlson. “Imagine a burned-out shell. After the fire, what remained was the brick and everything that you see here that looks charred. Fabric and flooring and seats and such have all been added over the last 16 years.”

Yet after remaining unused for the first decade after the fire, the theater thrives once again. The facility hosted 81 performances last year - a record since the fire.

“We are running as many shows as we can afford and as we are able to manage,” said Carlson.

The operational budget for the opera house has increased to $320,000. But that operational budget simply keeps the theater running. Restoration requires further funding, often through matching grants from the Deadwood Historic Preservation Fund and the South Dakota Historical Society.

Thus far that funding has allowed a slow but steady progress in restoration.

Previous administrations had uncovered layers of paint to find the original artwork and replicated the paint colors. It wasn’t until 2012 that the restoration of the foyer wall panels began.

“We raised $7,500. The Deadwood Historic Preservation Fund matched that with a grant,” said Carlson. The Foyer Mural Project was completed in 2013.

“Each year since has featured a new phase of restoration,” Carlson said.

In 2014, the cloak room opposite the theater doors was restored, along with the original water fountain. The Ricky Jacobsen Smoking Room was also completed that year.

“It’s the men’s lounge, and so it is named after (Ricky Jacobsen) because he was part of our community theater variety show. He lived right back behind the opera house for years and years, and he recorded in in here with (South Dakota Public Broadcasting’s) Deadwood Songbook and Hank Harris,” Carlson said.

In 2015, the old library carpeting was removed and the original, Douglas fir flooring refinished.

“We have used that space for wedding rehearsal dinners, for field trips, and for kids’ lunches during the field trips, for presentations and movie nights,” Carlson explained. “In the last two years of planning, we wanted to change that and make that space our storytelling space.”

After installing the multimedia interpretive center this year, the focus of the restoration shifted to the theater. The first step in this major project is the restoration of the damaged walls of the theater, beginning with the blank, white walls on the right side as you face the stage.

“This has been a Sheetrock wall for a long time, and this is the wall on which we want to replicate the plasterwork that you see on the left,” explained Carlson.

On the other side of the auditorium are the remains of the original finish. Carlson pointed out the different layers of paint: “You can see that bronzey-brown color on the bottom. That’s the original,” she said. “When the color and that plasterwork replication comes back, and you start seeing the color back in the theater, that is really exciting.”

Just as in a special panel in the foyer, the restored walls will show the stages of restoration: the remaining paint, the traces of the original beneath, and the full restoration of the original color and design.

“So it’s also an educational piece that shows people how plasterwork is restored,” said Carlson.

Fortunately, the caretakers of the opera house over the years have “salvaged everything they could out of this building, and so we have every decorative piece of original plaster to replicate,” Carlson said.

Much of this restoration work required some sleuthing. The colors of the restored walls, for example, “are based on the Homestake Gold Mine’s purchase orders for paint in 1913, which were from Sherwin-Williams,” Carlson explained.

Rather than basing the restoration on black-and-white photographs, then, the exact, original colors may be restored from these records.

There is still a great deal more work to be done before the theater is fully restored. In fact, finishing the project “will take a naming opportunity of $1.5 million,” said Carlson. A naming opportunity would allow a major donor to add the company’s name to the funded building.


Information from: Black Hills Pioneer, https://www.bhpioneer.com

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