MOUNT VERNON – The Woodward Opera House earned statewide recognition on Saturday as a symbol of first-class historical preservation.
The Woodward was among five projects to receive the Preservation Merit Award from the Ohio History Connection’s State Historic Preservation Office. According to the Ohio History Connection’s website, the award is “for preserving Ohio’s prehistory, history, architecture or culture.”
A wide range of projects, activities and initiatives are eligible to win, including historic building/site restoration, the promotion of protective legislation, and the funding of preservation projects.
The Woodward Opera House, built in 1851 and recognized as America’s oldest authentic 19th century theater still standing, was reopened in February after a 20-year, $21 million restoration effort by the Woodward Development Corporation.
The four-story, 65,000-square-foot facility on the southwest corner of S. Main St. and Vine St. in downtown Mount Vernon had been closed since 1921. It was once home to lectures, motion picture showings, musicians, vaudeville, minstrel shows and other traveling acts.
The Woodward Development Corporation sought to restore the opera house to its original state, while also adding modern technological amenities. It used roughly $11 million in state and federal tax credits to do so. The facility now hosts concerts and performances that draw visitors from across the region to Mount Vernon.
Pat Crow, project manager of the Woodward Development Corporation, called it an honor to accept the State Historic Preservation Office’s annual award.
“It’s incredible to be honored by the state, and particularly the Ohio History Connection. I mean, it’s a prestigious award,” Crow said. “Not too many people achieve this kind of certification. We’re just absolutely delighted and proud of our project.”
Crow was present in Columbus on Saturday to accept the award, alongside Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Mavis and numerous members of the team that made the Woodward restoration project possible.
Other winners of the Preservation Merit Award included the rehabilitation and restoration of the 1933 Cincinnati Union Terminal; the rehabilitation and restoration of the 1926 Highland Park Mausoleum in Cleveland; the rehabilitation of the 1908 Hough Auditorium at the Camp Perry Joint Training Center in Port Clinton; and the restoration of the Mahoning County Courthouse statues in downtown Youngstown.
“This is the cream of the crop. We were measured against many other big projects,” Crow remarked. “We’re in there with some of the best of the best. This was just a real privilege to be in this grouping.”
Crow and the Woodward Development Corporation started working with the State Historic Preservation Office when the project officially began more than two decades ago. The office reviews federally assisted projects statewide and signs off on tax credit funding initiatives.
In order to receive tax credits, the Woodward Development Corporation needed to follow through with specific restoration plans that complied with federal preservation standards. The organization worked with the State Historic Preservation Office every step of the way.
“When you’re done, they’re already totally familiar with your project,” Crow said. “So in a sense, they already have a list of projects they think are most worthy [of the Preservation Merit Award] before you even apply."
Still, the Woodward Development Corporation needed to apply for the award, and an independent committee needed to select its project as one of five statewide to win. Crow said his team felt proud to bring such a prestigious award back to Mount Vernon.
“We feel we have succeeded. Our team has done an incredible thing,” said Crow, who noted the opera house’s state of dilapidation by the time the project started. The windows were boarded up and the roof leaked. There were pigeons living in the theater.
“You wanted to restore it, it’s something that needed to be done,” Crow recalled. “It was a great team effort.”
Crow said the goal for the project has always been to bring money into the community, while also providing a top-notch entertainment venue for local residents.
“We took the attitude that we wanted this to become an asset-producing facility in our community, not an asset-consuming facility,” Crow said. “We felt that a first-class restoration was appropriate and certainly something we could be proud of, and we feel our team was able to achieve that first-class restoration project.”
The Woodward Opera House has now received two awards since reopening in February (the first came from Main Street Mount Vernon). Crow believes there is potential for more recognition down the road.
“I ensure that we will seek other preservation awards,” he said, “because it is a stunning project.”
The Ohio History Connection, formerly the Ohio Historical Society, is a statewide history organization with the mission to spark discovery of Ohio’s stories. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization chartered in 1885, the Ohio History Connection carries out history services for Ohio and its citizens focused on preserving and sharing the state’s history. This includes housing the state historic preservation office, the official state archives, and the local history office. The Ohio History Connection also manages more than 50 sites and museums across Ohio.