AVON — The Avon Opera Block has held echoes of the past for more than a century.
Bob Westfall, Avon Preservation and Historical Society president, gave Genesee Country Express a tour of the Avon Opera Block.
The Avon Opera Block was built in 1876, but had fallen to disrepair over the last few decades. It was purchased by the Town of Avon in 2005, and renovated over the next four years. A time capsule had been put in place on Jan. 28, 2010 to be opened in 2076.
The Bank of Avon joins with the Avon Opera Block to showcase the historic downtown. Westfall showed that the courthouse, town board conference room, town offices, and code enforcement takes the first two floors of the building.
The Opera House itself takes on the third floor of the famous building. The Avon Preservation and Historical Society takes part of the first floor as well.
“We are very proud and lucky to have a place for history in the old building,” Westfall said. “We never had a place for our museum, so it is nice to have this space. The court never had their own space, but always meant in the village hall. Now they have a nice courtroom.”
Over the years the Avon Opera Block was used for many things, such as a Barber Shop, Tailor Shop, Pool Hall, and candy stores.
“Once this building fell into disrepair it was used for apartments, and they made a huge mess of it,” Westfall said. “Once it went onto the market a private owner and the town fought to own it. The town began promoting their plan after the private owner sent flyers around town. It was made clear that the town’s plan was cheaper for the taxpayers due to all the grants.”
Westfall mentioned that what you see on the third floor is frozen in time. The windows and woodwork is that of long ago, and is all part of the guidelines to restore it to the original glory.
“The town really saved an old building,” he said. “This old opera house has always fascinated me. All these little towns in the area had their own opera blocks. Now there are not many left standing.”
The old box office for the opera house still stands on the second floor, as the stairs point the way to the stage.
“When they restore the opera house they will need to match the wood to repair the ceilings and walls,” Westfall said. “The gaslight stage is still in good shape, and has the small holes that showed where the stage was lit.”
There still stands the dressing rooms with the actor's graffiti, and local names are carved into those walls.
“We plan on preserving all of the names on the walls with a special kind of sealer,” Westfall said. “It is really neat to see local names carved into the walls. They used to write their names on the walls before or after they performed in those days.”
Westfall added that the opera block was the center of everything in town until the schools were centralized. Once that happened the schools became the place to go for entertainment.
“Opera houses were used for dances, plays, speeches, and concerts in those days,” he said. “I really want to see the opera house restored in my lifetime. It still needs a lot of work.”
Westfall recalls being brought to the opera house once when he was a child.
“My dad brought me to the opera house when I was a kid, and I fell in love with the place,” he said. “I have probably taken about 1,000 people on tour through here. We have it open for our big festivals. No one had a single negative comment on the tours.”
Westfall said that the Park Theater is equally important to the survival of history in the town. It was once used for an old car museum, but was only open one day before being in total disrepair. Now it has been rescued, and hopes are restored it will be a place of great entertainment once more.
The Avon Preservation and Historical Society is working hard with the landmark society to get the downtown on the historic district. It has been done with other small towns in the past such as Dansville.
The Avon Opera House was built after a fire destroyed the United States Hotel in 1874. It was decided the Opera House would be put in its place in 1876. The owners of this historic gem were the following; Solon Watkins (1883-1896, Walter Clark (1896-1929), Janet Clark (1929-1946), The D’Angelo Family (1946-1960), Timothy Cullinan (1960-1990) and Sally Leonard (1990 -2004).
As of today there are said to be at least 25 opera houses in our region that are still standing.