Ariel Opera House
Nestled in the hills of Southeast Ohio is the 1895 opera house known as The Ariel Opera House. Located in the historic district of the French town of Gallipolis on the Ohio River, the Ariel was built during the age of gas light elegance. During her heyday, she hosted such luminaries as Will Rogers, Sarah Bernhard and Daniel Emmett. Ensembles such as the Chicago Opera and the Ziegfield Follies graced the Ariel’s stage. Vaudeville led to movies and the Ariel’s eventual closing. Neglected and forgotten, she began the steady march of decay.
Twenty-five years passed before a local professional musician Lora Lynn Snow entered the Ariel’s doors and noticed the marvelous acoustics, the hallmark of craftsmen who built in a day and time when electronic amplification wasn’t known. The Ariel had all the trademarks of the finest halls in the world, a shoe box shape, thick walls covered with plaster and being built in the 19th century.
Lora formed a volunteer group and the work of cleaning up was begun in the fall of 1988. Years of accumulated pigeon manure and debris had to be removed. Volunteers sifted through everything looking for bits and pieces of ornaments, woodwork and clues to the Ariel’s original look. Golden oak woodwork prevailed throughout which the Ariel’s new caretakers lovingly stripped and refinished. Crumbling plaster was replaced and new wiring and plumbing was installed. Gas-look sconces were placed on the walls where the original gas lights hung and the Ariel was fitted with opulent crimson drapery and Victorian reproduction seats. Near the planned reopening of the theatre, elaborate stenciling on the ceiling, accidentally discovered, was reproduced on the new plaster by volunteers who worked all night on scaffolding 30 feet in the air!
On June 9, 1990 the Grand Opening of the newly restored Ariel Opera House was heralded by The Ohio Valley Symphony, resident ensemble of the historic theatre, and dedicated by local resident Maj. Gen. George E. Bush who made his own Ariel debut in 1906. In 1991, the auditorium was renamed The Morris & Dorothy Haskins Ariel Theatre in honor of the Haskins contributions to the community.
In July of 2005, Ann Carson Dater purchased the entire complex containing the auditorium and presented it to the community as a permanent home for The Ohio Valley Symphony and for use as a performing arts centre. The re-dedication of the facility as The Ariel-Ann Carson Dater Performing Arts Centre was April 22, 2006 (110 years after the original dedication on April 23, 1896). Ownership of the building has made expansion of all programs a reality. The newly obtained space includes a banquet hall, ballroom and meeting rooms and the Ariel Chamber Theatre on the third floor. While the primary focus is on the performing arts, all of the spaces are available for rental by other individuals and organizations.
Today the historic building is bustling with activities. The Ohio Valley Symphony, the only professional orchestra in southeast Ohio, offers a five-concert subscription series. Barbershop and Sweet Adeline choruses find the Ariel’s incredible acoustics and turn-of-the-century look makes the perfect partner with their music. The Ariel Children’s Chorus provides a forum to allow young voices to develop properly. The Ariel Players, a community theater troupe, entertains audiences with classic comedies and dramas and a string program provides education for budding young musicians. A hallmark of all Ariel programs is the staffing of these ensembles and educational programs with professional artists.
In July of 2005, philanthropist Ann Carson Dater, who grew up in Meigs County, made a gift to the community of the building that houses the historic Ariel Opera House at 426 Second Avenue in Gallipolis, Ohio. She wanted to provide a permanent home for The Ohio Valley Symphony and a place for youngsters and adults to take lessons and participate in performing arts programs that rival those offered in larger cities.
To celebrate the gift, April 22, 2006 was chosen as the Grand Re-Dedication of The Ariel-Ann Carson Dater Performing Arts Centre almost 110 years to the day of the original dedication of the Ariel Opera House. The Ariel was given a facelift that included new energy efficient windows, repairing, painting and refurbishing the second floor rooms, a new marquee, poster boxes, awnings and a new entrance with energy efficient, handicapped accessible doors. A new sprinkler and heating and cooling system has also been installed on all three floors which are accessible by a new elevator and the latest fiber optic wi-fi system is available throughout.
In 2010, the final stage of restoration was completed with the opening of the Third Floor Ariel Chamber Theatre. The seven foot windows allow light to stream in to the elegant performance space that is also perfect for business meetings, weddings, lectures, poetry readings, recitals and much more. Seating 180, the space has a baby grand piano, podium and the same amazing acoustics that prevail in the main auditorium. In 2014-15 one of the street side store fronts was rehabilitated as the Ariel box office restoring the 1895 gas-light look with 21st century technology built in to better accommodate arts patrons. Handicapped accessible restrooms with a diaper deck were added to the third floor near the Ariel Chamber Theatre.
The Ariel is the shining star at the very heart of a region that cherishes its heritage. After all, Gallipolis not only preserves its past, it polishes it and puts it on display!