History and Renovation
On a cold winter night, February 5, 1892 the City Opera House publicly opened with ballroom dancing and dinner. Gentry danced through the night to the music of a local group, the Ideal Orchestra and supped on a "dainty supper" off seven decorated tables in the adjacent hall (later called the "fill-in" building), consisting of raw oysters, roast turkey, pressed chicken, tongue, chicken salad and deserts (celery, pickles, jellies, fruits, raisins, nuts, coffee, cakes and ice cream). For the next 25 years the City Opera House provided downtown programming spanning the gamut from theater (very successful predominately as melodramas and light comedies although "Avenged" which ran three days only in early 1892 and "The Sad Sea Waves" which were considered so risqué they closed almost immediately), to political conventions, and lectures, banquets, club meetings, masquerade balls, high school graduation services and sporting events such as basketball and local Olympics.
From 1920 through the 1940s, the motion picture firm of Fitzpatrick & McElroy leased the City Opera House and closed it to the public (possibly to stifle competition with their movie theaters on East Front Street!). From 1945 until 1985, the new owner of the building, William Votruba (and later family friends after Mr. Votruba's death in 1982) informally conducted local groups on tours in the closed building. These tours stopped when restoration of the building began in the fall of 1985.
The 1980s and 1990s witnessed dynamic changes for this lovely Victorian theater that had quietly waited dormant for decades. The City Opera House was entered in the National Register of Historic Places in the late 1970s and in 1980, the Votruba family donated the City Opera House to the City of Traverse City to secure it for posterity. Shortly thereafter, in March, 1981, the Board of Directors of the City Opera House signed a lease with the City of Traverse City to manage the building and to put in place an annual calendar of entertainment, cultural and educational programming for the community.