The Memorial Opera House in Valparaiso is pictured. Originally built in 1893 as a Civil War memorial, it has been recently increasing its revenue after an investment from Porter County government. Times file photo
VALPARAISO — Nearly three years after the Porter County Council bailed out the Memorial Opera House from a financial crisis that threatened a final curtain call, the 124-year-old theater is reportedly back in the spotlights.
Season ticket sales ($90-$105) have risen by about $10,000 during each of the last couple of years to $60,000 for the 2018 season, and next year's sales are underway, said Opera House Executive Director Scot MacDonald.
"People want to be in the building," he said.
But the success has come at a price.
In addition to the $50,000 boost from the County Council, county government has spent close to $250,000 at the building over the last five years for various maintenance and upgrade projects and equipment purchases, according to records obtained from the county auditor's office.
Bigger ticket items include nearly $64,000 in local income tax money spent in 2013 for a sound system upgrade, according to county records.
Another $10,570 was spent that same year to purchase a copier machine that, according to MacDonald, was replaced this year with a new machine at a cost of $33,641.
The machines are used to print items such as playbills, the seasonal brochures and various mailings, he said. The machines are not cheap, but MacDonald said they save money on outside printing fees and in waste.
Earlier this month, the Porter County Board of Commissioners agreed to spend another $50,000 to purchase window treatments and wooden shutters, he said.
The Memorial Opera House Foundation, which is a nonprofit fundraising effort established to support its namesake, is contributing to these latter upgrades with a $25,000 pledge to replace the 40-year-old grand curtain on the stage and for painting the box office lobby and downstairs lounge, MacDonald said.
The foundation has contributed $103,700 to the Opera House over the last four years, said Foundation Board Treasurer Paul Kohlhoff.
Another $25,000 has been pledged this year, he said.
The Opera House, at 104 E. Indiana Ave. in downtown Valparaiso, is significant not just as a local theater, but also as a veterans memorial, Kohlhoff said.
MacDonald said the building is one of the few original Civil War memorials in the country still in existence and operating with its intended purpose.
"Built in 1893 by the Grand Army of the Republic, Memorial Opera House was founded to be a meeting place for the community," according to historical information provided by MacDonald. "Intended as a place for speeches, plays, orchestra performances, weddings, and graduations, it still serves its original purpose to this day."
The building, which celebrates its 125th anniversary next year, was built for $4,000 and has hosted such notables as Theodore Roosevelt, John Philip Sousa and The Marx Brothers.
MacDonald said the Civil War memorial status of the building was broadened a few years ago to include all veterans.
"It's been a lot of money invested in the Opera House," MacDonald said, "but I think it's coming back to us."