Lancaster Opera House
The Lancaster Opera House is a reminder of an early American tradition. In previous centuries, it was not unusual to combine a music hall with a town’s main governmental building. These multi-functional halls were often called “Opera Houses”, whether or not opera was, in fact, performed. The Lancaster Opera House, designed by George J. Metzger, is one of only a few such Town Hall Opera Houses left in the country.
The desire of the designer for an adaptable space is evident from the fact that the 52 by 57 foot maple auditorium floor is level, and unobstructed by balcony supports. Removable seating in the main floor can be easily cleared for dancing. The balcony is suspended by iron rods secured to massive attic timbers. The liberal use of long-leaf yellow pine in door and window frames, wainscoting, and balcony balustrade lends to the Opera House a feeling of warmth, and produces excellent acoustics.
The stage is “raked”, or sloped, similar to the stages of the Italian Renascence. The rake of ½ inch per foot makes it possible for the audience to see actors “upstage” as well as “downstage”.
The early years of Opera House were devoted to dances, recitals, and commencement exercises, as well as musicals and traveling shows. In the 1920s and 1930s, musicals and minstrel shows were presented. During the Great Depression, the hall became a center for the distribution of food and clothing to the needy. During World War II, a sewing room was set up in the dressing room beneath the stage, and parachutes were packed on the auditorium floor. Following the war, the theatre was the Civil Defense Headquarters to coordinate plan spotters and air raid drills during the 1950s and the early 60s until an underground bunker was constructed in Chestnut Ridge Park.
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