Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Final Performance--The Larned Opera House

Photo Credit:  Great Bend News

Even after the once famed Larned Opera House was no longer used, it displayed remnants of the architectural details from its 1886 origins, when four Larned men decided to construct a lasting entertainment venue for their community.  Once the decision to build was made, they did not scrimp on making it magnificent, with large cathedral windows, ornate parapet along the roof edge, with corbelled corners.  The second-floor interior contained a semi-circular auditorium, divided into orchestral, dress circle, parquet and balcony seats.  There were four private seats on each side of the stage, and cherry-wood trim emphasized the painted scenery.  The stage was described as "the largest in Kansas," and the entire building was lit by gas-light.

Sadly, by 2022 the elegant Victorian structure had deteriorated to the point that it was dangerous.  The City Council was compelled to do something, but not everyone agreed just what that should be.  To give the citizens an opportunity to express their views, a poll was taken:  20.83% wanted the building repaired at the cost of the owners; 39.58% wanted the building razed at the cost of the owners; 18.75% wanted the building repaired at the expense of the city; and 20.83% wanted it demolished at the cost of the city.  If it were destroyed, nearly 3/4th wanted no compensation for the various owners, some of which had active businesses in the lower floor, but 26.53% believed owners should be compensated.  Obviously, there was no single majority among the Larned citizens about how to proceed.   

Yet, a decision needed to be made.  The decision was made to raze the once grand old building, which had become so unsafe that even the inspectors were reluctant to move through the entire building, described as being "in emanate danger of collapse."  One tenant had made repairs to his portion of the property, but he agreed to "do what's best for the community." 

Photo credit:  Larry Fenwick

As we entered Larned from the south, we were taken by surprise, not having been aware of the decision to raze the old opera house.  Although I was never inside the Opera House, even I could imagine the history--the remaining soldiers from the old fort riding into town for some entertainment, the early homesteaders dressing up for a special occasion at the theater, the performers arriving by train with their costumes and props to get ready for their performance.

Isaac Werner occasionally traveled to Larned, and in his journal he mentioned the novelty of arriving under lighted streets.  He also mentioned one trip to Larned to sell trees from his farm and discovering that the Governor was speaking that evening.  He had written in his journal that he wanted to stay to hear the Governor but felt it was necessary to start toward home before dark, getting a bit closer so that the remainder of the journey could be shortened for the following day.  But, surely Isaac would have admired the beautiful exterior, and perhaps he had even slipped inside to view the interior.  

If only those old bricks could have called out the names of performers and sweethearts and politicians who had frequented the Opera House as the bricks tumbled to the ground.  What stories they might have told.   

More about the Larned Opera House next week.



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