Grand Opera House to reopen

January 2, 2009 4:50:23 PM PST
There is another good sign on the road to recovery as the Grand 1894 Opera House prepares to reopen this weekend. [SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

The reopening of the Grand 1894 Opera House is symbolic, because it was one of the first buildings to reopen after the Great Storm of 1900, where some 6,000 people died. People in Galveston are hoping that the reopening now will be equally encouraging to residents rebuilding their homes and lives.

Hurricane Ike's waves sent water rolling into the majestic old theater, soaking the stage, orchestra pit and the first 10 rows of seats. It claimed a grand piano, and the entire basement too.

Although officials have done much of the remodeling, in certain places the water line is still visible. The water was at least seven feet deep in one room.

But the opera house has seen worse. The storm of 1900 blew out the brick wall behind the stage. That didn't happen this time.

"This was a place for the people to come back, to weep together over the horrific loss, but also to forget for a few moments and to band together as a community," said Executive Director Maureen Patton. "When this storm hit, I said, 'This theater will serve that same purpose.' Because we need a place to gather."

So officials plan to reopen on Saturday, on its 114th birthday. They will celebrate with an open house and cake.

Patton explained, "We won't have carpet on these stairs tomorrow, but we're going to have places for people to sit. The place is going to be clean."

One thing in their favor, the opera house was already being renovated when Ike struck. So the same contractor started tearing out the water damage immediately after the storm. That made this reopening possible.

The 'new' piano -- actually built in 1908 -- is being tuned, and the chairs are ready to give new audiences a reprieve from hurricanes and rebuilding.

The Grand 1894 Opera House will celebrate with a weekend of entertainment beginning with a birthday party free and open to the public from 10am-2pm on Saturday. Houston entertainer Rob Landes will be at the piano and former CBS anchor Steve Smith will emcee the festivities and be accompanied by Galveston favorite Vandy Anderson as both will read the best of the best "hurricane stories" that were submitted to Rosenberg Library. Cake, punch and great door prizes will round out the activities.

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