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Major renovations made to the M.C. Opera House

  • Ron Gower/TIMES NEWS The Mauch Chunk Opera House has undergoing major renovations.
    Ron Gower/TIMES NEWS The Mauch Chunk Opera House has undergoing major renovations.
Published February 04. 2013 05:06PM

The Mauch Chunk Opera House along Broadway in Jim Thorpe, which over its 131-year history has survived major floods while hosting such legendary performers as Al Jolsen, Mae West, the Dorsey Brothers, and John Philip Sousa, continues to be an entertainment mecca in the borough.

The stately theater has been almost completely remodeled, from seats and lobby to a more modern sound system.

It survived calls for demolition to convert it into a parking lot a number of years ago and now, thanks to a partnership between the Mauch Chunk Historical Society and a small private promotion group call JTAMS Productions, the Opera House is again the site of concerts, musicals, comedy shows, and other entertainment events.

JTAMS is comprised of Dan Hugos, Vince DiGiosio, and Vince's wife, Christie McGorry.

Hugos outlined the chronological order of improvements made to the Opera House.

In 2008, the original tin roof was replaced by a new steel version. Hugos said the roof was fabricated in the loading dock area and built by a company from Whitehall.

Also that year, the roof on the front canopy was shored-up, and the front canopy was gutted.

Right after that, it was decided to replace the seats in the theater.

"The old seating was very noisy," Hugos said. "If we had a classical player, you could hear people moving in the seats."

New seats were obtained from a theater in Indiana. Those seats were refurbished and installed in the Opera House. Meanwhile the old carpeting was pulled and new carpeting installed.

Next on the improvement list was the electrical system; particularly the circuitry behind the stage. By doing this, the Opera House could host larger shows.

Backstage, stairs were replaced and dressing rooms were upgraded.

In the entrance area, the gallery space, middle lobby, and front lobby were overhauled.

Nancy Ziegler of Harrisburg, an historical preservationist, assisted with the project, selecting colors and decor. Drury said Ziegler had worked in New York City for the National Historic Trust and had great experience in this line of work.

Steve Hlavka, former president and now vice president of the Mauch Chunk Historical Society, praised the improvements to the Opera House. He said all the improvements were approved by the society.

"This place was a dump," said Hlavka. "Now it's a beautiful place."

As part of the partnership between JTAMS and the historical society, memberships to the historical society are solicited at every concert. Those who purchase historical society memberships get a $5 discount off every show for a year.

The Opera House also depends on volunteers, Hugos said. Some of the volunteers bring home-cooked food, which is sold for the concerts.

Hugos said the first concert by JTAMS occurred June 6, 2003, meaning this will be 10 years that they have been holding concerts.

That first show was a Simon and Garfunkle tribute by A. J. Swearington and John Beedle.

"Only about 30 people were here," he said.

Many of the concerts now held sell-out the Opera House, which seats 400 people.

The Opera House opened as "The Concert Hall" in 1882. It became the Capital Theater in 1925 and was a popular movie house besides hosting concerts.

When it was the Capital Theater, it also was dubbed "the old Opera House."

It closed as a movie house in 1959 and a year later, was purchased by Berkely Bags and converted into a factory for making handbags.

The Mauch Chunk Historical Society purchased it for $1 in 1974.

They began a restoration project by building the current lobby and restrooms, adding a new stage, and starting the long process of returning the venue to its rightful place in the community as a performance venue.

Hugos said a full schedule is forthcoming this year, including a return by Tusk, the Ultimate Fleetwood Mac tribute on Feb. 15 and 16 and by the Allentown Band on Feb. 17.

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