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 chambers. The first floor auditorium is a popular and gorgeous facility that hosts local, regional, and even national talent on a regular basis. Performers include comedians Chonda Pierce and James Gregory, Grammy-Award winner John Berry, legendary trumpet player Doc Severinsen, and country music star Lee Brice. Performances by local groups 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 on the stage.
For more information about the history of the Opera House, please consult this History of the Sumter Opera House (PDF).*