History of the Sumter Opera House
Not only is the Opera House a state-of-the-art performing arts facility, it is also a beautiful historic site with a rich and intriguing past.
The Opera House in its present form was built from 1893-1895, following the destruction of the first Opera House in December 1892 by fire. In 1936 the Opera House was renovated into a movie theater. The renovations created 300 jobs for Depression-era workers and cost $120,000. The very first film shown at the Opera House was Earthworm Tractors. Tickets to the first movie were 35 cents for adults and 10 cents for children.
During its tenure as a movie theater the Opera House underwent several changes. In 1973 it was officially listed on the National Register of Historical Places. Sadly, much of the wonderful Art Deco gold-leaf, which has since been restored by French restoration artists, was painted black or covered with black cloth. In 1982 the Opera House closed its doors after 46 years of operation as a movie theater.
Fortunately, the City of Sumter, in need of additional office space and hoping to attract more visitors to the downtown area, purchased the building in 1984 and began a loving and faithful restoration of the Opera House. The City's renovation of the facilities represents one of the first steps in a growing movement toward downtown revitalization and historic preservation that continues in Sumter today. Renovations were completed in 1987, just in time for the City of Sumter to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Council-Manager form of government, an innovation of the Progressive movement that was first adopted in Sumter in 1912.
The Opera House still houses City Hall and many of the City's departments and offices, including City Council's chambers. The first floor auditorium is a popular and gorgeous facility that hosts local, regional, and even national talent on a regular basis. Recent performers include comedians Gallagher and James Gregory, as well as Grammy-Award winner Linda Davis and country music star Lee Brice. Performances by local groups, many of them free to the public, are also a common occurrence. The Sumter High School Jazz Band, the Sumter-Shaw Community Concert Band, the Sumter Civic Chorale, and the Sumter Community Jazz Band have all performed at the Opera House. Many grade schools and colleges hold their graduation ceremonies in the Opera House each year.
For more information about the history of the Opera House, please consult this History of the Sumter Opera House (PDF).*
Want to help with the arts while also boosting visibility for your business? The Sumter Opera House is currently filling advertisement spots for the 2016/2017 Season Playbill. Place your business in the spotlight where it will be seen by more than 10,000 people over the course of 8 months and more than 15 shows. Download an application package by clicking on the image. We look forward to seeing your name in the playbill this season!