The Cultural Arts Center at the Opera House

An Opera House? Yes. But it’s not just about opera. Opera has very rarely been performed in the former Havre de Grace Opera House. But in 1870 when it was built, the use of the word “opera” was more politically correct than “theater” or “music hall”. Such entities were considered morally corrupt. During this part of  America’s entertainment history, opera was considered to be the product of high civilization and a respectable form of entertainment. Thus, the words “opera house” preserved the moral standing of the theatrical house, even though the entertainment inside was the same as in any music hall or theater of the time. Many American communities built “opera houses.”

Brief History of “Old City Hall”
The three-level building was constructed in 1870 and was first used by the public in 1871.

The original use of the building was as a grade school on the first floor and an opera house/theater on the second and third floors. It would continue being used as the city’s grade school until 1897, at which time the new Havre de Grace grade school (at the west end of Congress Avenue, current site of HdG High School) was completed. When the school moved out, the government moved in. The building would house the Havre de Grace City government from 1897-1993. During this ninety-six year period, the second floor continued to serve as an opera house/theater, dance hall, concert venue, and meeting room for various civic organizations. Being the city’s civic building, it would often serve as a back drop for campaign stops. In 1912, President Theodore Roosevelt gave a speech from the front steps of the building in his bid for presidential re-election. It must be noted that the building suffered a fire in the early 1920s and the upper floors were badly damaged. As a result, the third floor was removed and a roof was constructed, capping the building to just two levels.

The New Cultural Center at the Opera House
Renovation of this historic structure began in 2014. Funding from numerous private and public sources supported this project including the citizens of Havre de Grace who, in 2016, overwhelmingly supported a bond bill that ensured the project’s completion. The newly renovated building will serve more than 20,000 people annually. It will bring the highest quality entertainment to our community and the region. The historic theater will be used for local and professional plays, live music and arts performances, dance, film, arts education and youth programming, local events, private receptions, conferences, and gatherings. We hope there will even be some opera.