The History of the C.L. Hoover Opera House
Through the initiative of local citizens who sought to bring cultural events only rarely encountered in the Midwest, the citizens of Junction City voted in 1880 to spend $12,000 for the construction of a public hall. By 1882, the construction, built upon a foundation comprised of native Geary County limestone, was complete. The facades of all four elevations of the original building was made in the Romanesque Style, comprised of the red brick that now remains on only the front third of the building. The front portion of the original structure was used for the fire department, police department, jail, and city council room on the second floor. In the basement were horse stalls that housed the horses used to pull fire wagons. On the roof, a clock tower with a bell was built to serve as the city fire alarm. The back portion was used as an Opera House. The original
theater included an orchestra level, a balcony, a gallery, and three levels of box seating for a total capacity of over 1000 seats, though only 600 were installed due to funding constraints. Lighting came from gas chandeliers. The original stage was 20 ft deep by 62 ft wide and had a proscenium opening of 36 square feet. The front curtain was flown in the fly galley, which was unusual at the time, since most opera houses at that time were still employing the roller system.
In 1890, the building underwent interior remodeling and was renamed the Blakely Opera House. The seats were raised to an angle to improve visibility. Electric lights were also installed at this time.
In 1898, a catastrophic fire occurred. The interior of the building was a complete loss, with only the front exterior wall remaining. Shortly after, J.C. Holland, an architect from Topeka, drew up plans to rebuild. Within 8 months, the new opera house was completely operational again. The original front brick exterior wall was utilized and the back portion was rebuilt using native Geary County limestone. A new clock tower was supplied with a 2,500 pound bell from the Meneely Bell Company in Troy, New York. The new opera house, again located in the back portion of the building, held 800 seats. The interior boasted beautiful fresco walls painted in terra cotta
and gold and was decorated with willow chairs, expensive silks, wool drapery and carpet. The stage was enlarged to 36 ft deep by 62 ft wide by 48 ft high. The new facilities also included a hand painted new proscenium curtain, ten dressing rooms, and city water in the ladies’ toilet.
In 1919 the Opera House was remodeled again and renamed the City Theater. During this time, productions included live theater as well as new motion picture “talkies”.
In 1937, the city built a municipal building and moved all the city offices to the new city hall.
In 1942, a full renovation transformed the Opera House into a modern movie theater. Air conditioning units were installed, the opera house seating was replaced with cinema seating, a projector screen covered the stage. The exterior windows on the first floor and upper story were blocked in with limestone and brick, and the front brick exterior was painted white. Now owned by Dickinson Theaters, it was renamed The Colonial Theater and showed motion pictures until it closed in 1982. It was purchased by Junction City’s Fred and Dorothy Bramlage , who donated it back to Junction City with hopes that it would be renovated.
In 2003 the Opera House was placed on the State Historic Register. Plans were made to renovate this cultural treasure and construction began in 2007.
After a 26-year hiatus, the newly renovated building, renamed the C.L. Hoover Opera House, re-opened to the public on October 3, 2008, having undergone a seven million dollar restoration. We are once again open as a state-of-the-art performing arts and civic center.
The renovation and re-launch of the C.L. Hoover Opera House filled the need in Junction City for a cultural venue in which to meet, hold events, and perform concerts and theatre. Today’s C.L. Hoover Opera House is a multi-use facility for performing& visual arts presentation, business & professional events, educational & cultural opportunities and civic activities.
The Opera House is a vibrant and productive cultural landmark and home to all of Junction City and Geary County’s arts agencies: the Junction City Little Theater, Junction City Arts Council and Junction City Community Band. In addition, many spaces within this beautiful structure are available for public rental for various occasions. The Opera House has hosted music, dance, theatre, musical theatre, magic, acrobats, comedy, classic and independent films, and children’s programming. We hold memberships in the Kansas Historic Theatre Association (KHTA) and the League of Historic American Theatres (LHAT).
See before and after pictures of the 2008 renovation
A Vision Restored: The History of the CL Hoover Opera House