Historic restoration firm hired to help with Piper's renovation

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A firm has been chosen to direct the restoration of Piper's Opera House.

"They are very excited about this, as are we," Executive Director Howard Bennett said. "There are a lot of artifacts and they plan on completely restoring much of the original equipment, to make it functional."

The firm, van Dijk Westlake Reed Leskosky of Phoenix, Ariz., will identify the historic fabric and recapture the spirit of the original architecture, according to Bennett.

The opera house remains largely as it did when it opened in 1885 and served as one of the leading entertainment venues of its time. It was the stage for such memorable performances as Emma Nevada's concert of 1885 and Hal Holbrook's performance as Mark Twain in 2001.

Restoration plans call for exterior restoration, the return of original interior treatments and retaining the old theater's original building fabric, from gasjets to early electric panels. Plans will also address expansion opportunities.

"We need to expand it to make it a viable performance space," Bennett said.

About $2.5 million was spent on infrastructure improvements to stabilize the building and the balance of the restoration should cost about $6 million."

Plans are still being formulated and research ongoing. Excavation beneath the auditorium to make room for storage, dressing and rehearsal rooms is being considered and there are also plans to replace a smaller building that once stood on the north side of the theater.

The project will be completed in three to five years, according to Bennett.

The company specializes in landmark performing arts facilities and has worked on nearly 70 historic theaters, most of them pre-1930s venues like Piper's Opera House. They've been cited in over 100 design awards programs and have won nearly 34 awards honoring historic performing arts projects.

The project received a major boost when it was awarded a $400,000 grant in September through Save America's Treasures, a National Park Service grant. That money will be matched through in-kind donations, fundraisers and other grants.

Bennett said the restoration efforts have also received a lot of support from Nevada's Cultural Affairs Commission.


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