It’s a fresh look for 2014 inside and out at The Howell Opera House.
Restoration of the historic building’s large, vintage windows is nearly complete.
Work continued through the holidays, though storms and high winds have delayed the project’s completion.
“There’s been a lot of progress,” said Sharon Fisher, Livingston Arts Council vice president of programming and sales manager. The council owns and runs the building. “We’re hoping to have everything done by this month, weather permitting.”
Begun in September, the project provides an improved view of the downtown building from outside and an improved view of downtown from inside.
The three-story building’s 22 windows are being restored to their original state by James Turner, considered a Michigan master of historic preservation.
Turner and his staff have preserved the original window panes wherever possible. Those too damaged to be restored will be replaced by modern glass manufactured to 19th century standards.
Window frames are also being stripped, sanded and restored to their original finish with a special mix of turpentine, linseed oil and paraffin.
The windows play a big part in the building’s Italianate design. Envisioned by original architect A.C. Varney, the design is similar to that of San Francisco’s famous “painted ladies” row houses. Historians say it also made the local building distinct in an era when many other Michigan cities built opera houses of their own.
Howell automotive supplier Thai Summit America Corp. donated $60,000 to the project.
The window project is likely the first in a series of projects to be undertaken at the 133-year-old building.
Restoration of the building’s outer brick work is likely to follow, Fisher said.
The arts council’s $6 million wish list includes a series of other projects designed to bring the building up to modern codes.
Funding will be made easier, she added, by the building’s new status as a local historic district.
“We are now the historic district for Howell,” Fisher said. That status allows the venue to
compete for additional restoration grants.
Despite its name, the building only served as an opera house until 1924.
The downstairs floor had been home to several other business ventures, with the second floor generally used for storage, until 2000 when the arts council purchased it.
Under its jurisdiction, the building has returned as a year-round regional cultural center.
Winter events include the Acoustic Café concert series, which began its 2014 run Friday, as well as the Winter Marketplace, which continues two Sundays a month through April 13.
Information on those and other programs is available at www.howelloperahouse.com.
CURRENT UPDATE from the Livingston Daily Press & Argus writer Wayne Peal.