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A Video History of the Ariel Opera House

Watch the history of the Ariel Opera House unfold – from it’s opening on Christmas Day 1895 to the present.  Narrated by the founder and Executive Director Lora Lynn Snow.

[Transcript]
Lora Lynn Snow:  “Welcome to the historic Ariel Opera House in downtown Gallipolis, Ohio. The Ariel was built in 1895 by the Ariel Oddfellows lodge. It was a fairly typical 19th century Appalachian Opera House with retail space on the front sidewalk and the theatre portion in the back with a banquet room on the second floor and their lodge room on the third floor. Most towns had an opera house in the nineteenth century and they were built by the various lodges, Moose, Masons, Elks, Oddfellows, etc. and they shared a similar design. Retail space was on ground level to provide income, opera houses were behind or on second or third floors and their lodge room was on the top floor as they felt they were the upper class citizens of their community and they literally wanted people to look up to them. It also meant any secret parts of their rituals couldn’t be seen by the people on the street.

We call them theatres today, but in the nineteenth century, “theatres” were considered disreputable so they used the term “opera house.” Opera houses proliferated throughout the nineteenth century and almost every town had one. The Ariel was designed by the state architects of Packard and Yost who were responsible for many facilities throughout Ohio, including the Great Southern Theatre and connected hotel in Columbus, Ohio. Another of their designs, The Ohio Valley Bank also on Second Ave. in Gallipolis has been recently restored and occupied by Ohio Valley Bank, the original owner.

The Oddfellows lodge sold the Ariel a few years after it opened on Christmas Day in 1895 and it changed hands several more times until the Gallia Masonic Lodge bought it in 1919. Silent movies began to share the stage with live entertainment and then only movies remained until the doors closed for good in the mid 1960’s. TV sealed the fate of many historic theatres and they were lost to the wrecking ball.

I’m Lora Lynn Snow and I’m a professional musician. In 1987, I had a vision of starting a professional orchestra and a few days later found the abandoned Ariel. It was love at first sound! I could hear the spectacular acoustics and knew if would be the perfect home for The Ohio Valley Symphony. After a year and a half or planning and organizing, we obtained a long term lease and began physical work on the theatre only portion of the building. We encouraged the long time pigeon residents to move on and then began the cleanup of the remnants of their occupation. We found beautiful golden oak woodwork under many layers of paint, graceful plaster ornamentation and decorative woodwork in the piles of rubble which were carefully sifted through. Volunteers by the dozens showed up for months of clean up and initial restoration work and we had a tea to show it off. That raised community interest a bit, but it wasn’t until we had our first performance of The Ohio Valley Symphony on April 1, 1989 that people really sat up and took notice. They, too, were mesmerized by the sound of the instrument that is the Ariel and they began to respond in earnest.

A Grand Re-opening date was set for June 9, 1990 and the work began. The building was still strong and sound, but a new roof was installed, new wiring and plumbing and the real plaster repaired. The goal was to restore the Ariel with the look of the original while bringing it up to code. We had no interior photos of the Ariel, but serendipity was often at play during the process. We ordered the massive main stage curtain and had the seat fabric dyed to match. Later, in a room that had been sealed up in 1930, we pulled up some threadbare carpeting. Apparently during the installation, they folded under the excess instead of cutting it off and the colors on that portion were still brilliant AND the red background was an exact match for the fabric we had just ordered.

As the re-opening date drew near, work became more frantic and round the clock. The original ceiling stencil was discovered only a few weeks before June 9 and was re-created in an all-night dash by volunteers before the scaffolding came down in a beat-the-clock race against time. The seat installers were literally screwing in seats until 8:00 pm the night of the re-opening concert as the line to get in stretched down the long hall, out the door and down the street. The OVS sold out of their first upcoming season that very night.

The Ohio Valley Symphony, the only professional orchestra in the southeast Ohio River Valley region, has grown and developed over the years. We pull in musicians from seven states and Canada and have world class soloists join us in concerts. The OVS recently completed a project with folk singer Michael Johnathon resulting in Songs of Rural America that is being shown on public tv stations around the country. This was conducted by Cincinnati Pops Principal Arranger, Tim Berens, and you can hear his arrangement of “Simple Gifts” arranged especially for OVS playing in the background. You can view and hear both on our website at arieloperahouse.org

In 2005, longtime arts patron, Ann Carson Dater, purchased the entire 25,000 square foot facility and gave it to us as a permanent home for The Ohio Valley Symphony. Her incredible generosity has enabled us to expand our offerings and propel us into the future. In her honor, we renamed the facility the Ariel-Ann Carson Dater Performing Arts Centre. She wanted a place for young children to have dance and music lessons and experience the thrill of performing before an audience. She often said to me, “If more people listened to symphonic music, the world would be a better place.” We agree and to that end, we facilitate the connection between artists of all kinds and students, both young and old, to be able to select a teacher at the Ariel Academy on our website. We also offer performances of all kinds and of all abilities, lectures, debates, book signings and conferences. We are available to rent for parties, weddings and commercial events.

The Ohio Valley Symphony has a six concert season with fall and spring concerts surrounding the annual Christmas Show the first Saturday in December. Our soloists have included Philadelphia Orchestra concert master, David Kim, jazz great Byron Stripling, pianist and Gershwin expert Richard Glazier, Broadway star Mark McVey and many, many more. Audience members come from far and wide to hear fine symphonic music expertly performed in a fabulous acoustic instrument, the Ariel Opera House.

The Ariel hosts an annual Merry TubaChristmas on the second Saturday in December which allows tuba and euphonium players from far and wide to gather together to perform traditional Christmas carols. The warm rich organ-like sound of the low brass instruments sounds especially wonderful in the Ariel’s spectacular acoustics.

We now have a Banquet Room seating 100 and a ballroom on the second floor. The former lodge room on third floor has been transformed into our Chamber Theatre seating 130 and we also have a Conference Room complete with state of the art Web-Ex conferencing equipment allowing connections around the world. From that little scrap of carpet we found back in 1990, restoration work has recently culminated with the completion of a long term project recreating the original carpet and laying that throughout the building. With the help of the League of Historic American Theatres we found a world renowned historic carpet expert who guided us through the textile analysis and recreation of the Axminster wool carpeting that is a historic reproduction of the original.

Visit our website at arieloperahouse.org and plan your visit to coincide with an Ohio Valley Symphony concert performed in an intimate hall with superb acoustics. Parking is nearby and plentiful, nearby restaurants and hotels and motels offer discounts for symphony ticket holders when visiting our ADA accessible facility. We guarantee you will leave here uplifted and ready to return.”