PEMBERVILLE OPERA HOUSE: A Civic Dream Realized.
It was the desire of civic leaders of the time to build a Town Hall that could be used and enjoyed by all Pemberville citizens. In 1891, during the height of the Oil Boom, money was raised and construction began on a Town Hall with its own Opera House on the second floor. Completed at a cost under $6,000, the building opened on July 5, 1892.
The Pemberville Opera House had much to boast about, including folding seats for 250 people, and a "modern stage," with two trap doors, one on the stage and one leading to the scenery attic. It also provided three dressing rooms.
The Pemberville Opera House functioned with a "raked stage," designed to offer a “point-of-perspective” view. It also sported “Old-English” style scenery. Painted scenes would be attached to a series of sliding flats and fit into wooden grooves suspended from the ceiling. One scene would be slid into view while the previous scene was removed behind. Hand-painted Roll-Drops were also used to create large, picturesque scenes. A small ticket booth was located under the stairs and public opinion remained that the Opera House be self-supportive from the start.
“JEPTHA'S DAUGHTER,” a Biblical play, was the first production staged in the Opera House, debuting in November 1892. Soon after, as a way to produce more entertainment, local residents formed the “Oriental Club.” By 1894, Opera House use was such that wear and tear repairs had to be made on scenery units and foot rails.
Gilbert and Sullivan's “THE MIKADO” was the first opera to be performed in Pemberville. 1899 also brought with it electric lights, to the delight of local performers and audiences alike.
Performances during the first decade featured local talent and professional entertainers/tours, and included concerts, medicine shows, operettas and old-fashioned vaudeville routines. It is widely known that the 1890's fostered the greatest use of the Opera House. In addition to theatrical/musical entertainment, the "house" was even turned into a basketball court. The first basketball game was played on October 17, 1910, and, at one point, crowds were so large local leaders discussed adding a balcony to the space.
Throughout the 1920's and 30's the popular Opera House hosted dances, concerts, lectures, political meetings, socials, husking bees, graduation ceremonies, Boy Scout meetings, class plays and holiday parties. Food was often prepared on gas stoves on the stage. A local music teacher from Elmore gave regular music lessons when performance weren't happening. In 1934, one hundred and thirty-five seats were purchased from a Toledo lawyer for a total cost of $13.40.
Unfortunately, World War II captured the attention of the nation and the Pemberville Opera House, used less and less, began its slide into obscurity and disrepair. It lay dormant for years, used basically as storage for town records (from the functioning Town Hall below), until the early 1990’s, when the Historical Society took an interest in its possible restoration.
By 1998, enough funds were raised to start the restoration process. It was dedicated in October 1999.