Monticello Opera House is a downtown jewel
July 21st, 2015 by Red Hills
published in the Tallahassee Democrat, 12/8/14
The Monticello Opera House has been the jewel in the heart of downtown Monticello since the late 19th century. Built in 1890 by entrepreneur John H. Perkins and designed by W.R. Gunn, it was described shortly after its opening as “the handsomest business block in town.” It is listed on the U.S. Register of Historic Places, and has been designated as a Landmark of American Music by the National Music Council.
Walking into the Opera House is like taking a step back in time. Visitors first enter into the grand foyer, bathed in the light of stained glass. They walk up the grand staircase, through another set of restored antique doors, into the auditorium. The theater walls do not include any straight lines; this helps to create an almost perfect acoustic experience for the audience.
There are traces of the past all throughout the building. Beyond the rumored ghost of Mr. Perkins, the backstage of the theater has remnants of the companies that passed through Monticello as part of the traveling circuit. The backstage wall shows signatures and messages from actors who once performed on the stage. The auditorium itself still retains all of the charm and intimacy of a 19th century playhouse, including an orchestra pit, two opera boxes and a balcony with the original bench seating.
The MOH office also holds mementos from a bygone era. Chief among these is a sign originally written backstage around the turn of the century by the stage crew of the Springer and Lewis Company. Several other relics from the original restoration also remain on display, including painted canvas, square nails, a hand crank from the original stage design and several old programs.
By the 1920s, the Opera House was no longer focusing on live performance, but rather movies. Soon after, the beautiful auditorium fell silent and into disrepair. In 1972 the building was threatened with demolition. At that time, members of the community banded together to save this historic gem. Since that time, community members have continued to work tirelessly to preserve this landmark.
Today, MOH is home to the Opera House Stage Company and the Monticello Acting and Dance Company. Members of the Monticello community regularly tread these historic boards presenting murder mysteries, musicals, comedies and dramas. MOH also hosts many concerts and musical events each year.
Currently, MOH is in the midst of a capital campaign, including plans to renovate the elevator and repair the roof. You can find out more about this theater at www.monticellooperahouse.org.
Kevin Carr is the grants program manager for the Council on Culture and Arts and is the founder of Canopy Roads Theater Company. Exploring the Red Hills Region is a blog by the Greater Red Hills Awareness Initiative. This collaborative effort seeks to connect residents with their region by sharing stories celebrating the Red Hills.