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Great heights

Lisbon, N.D. The curtain's not the only thing going up at the Lisbon Opera House anymore. For the past 13 years, a group of community volunteers has been working to restore the 1889 building on Main Street, and just last week put the finishing to...

1920s graffiti

Lisbon, N.D.

The curtain's not the only thing going up at the Lisbon Opera House anymore.

For the past 13 years, a group of community volunteers has been working to restore the 1889 building on Main Street, and just last week put the finishing touches on one of the most major projects to date - the addition of an elevator and new staircase.

The $220,000 project was completed in time for the No Name Players' spring melodrama, which runs Thursday through Sunday.

Since the Lisbon Opera House Foundation took control of the building in 1994, this town of 2,200 has rallied to restore it to its glory days, as well as meet 21st-century building codes.

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"This was a community building," says Judy Larson, foundation president. "Anything that happened September to May happened here."

Summer events took place in the park. Now, because the building has no heating or cooling system - it was heated by potbellied stoves - events can only be held in the summer. Two small furnaces have extended the season by a month on either side.

"We had to make a decision, heat first or elevator first," Larson says. "We decided elevator."

Until now, the building was not accessible to the elderly, with only one narrow, difficult-to-climb staircase reaching the second-floor theater. The foundation had to turn away wedding receptions because disabled guests wouldn't be able to attend.

On Thursday, fresh drywall surrounded the elevator frames, waiting to be painted a warm tan. Deep blue trim follows the oak stairs around the elevator shaft.

So far, the group has spent between $400,000 and $450,000 repairing the structurally sound building - adding an exterior staircase to the back of the building, redoing the front fa?ade, replacing windows and updating the electrical system, in addition to the elevator project.

There's also been minor improvements - cleaning, painting, enhancing the set.

Much of the improvement has been from the ground up. The third-floor balcony and crumbling plaster ceiling are all that truly divulge the Opera House's former condition and age.

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The balcony was unusable because of fire codes.

Now with the elevator, 24 people can sit there for performances. Antique upholstered benches, possibly from a railroad car, provide the temporary seating.

Replacing the ceiling and installing the heating and cooling system are the next major projects, depending on when funds are available.

So far grants, donations and proceeds from events at the Opera House have funded the renovation.

"We basically work with what we have," Larson says. "Nobody working with the Opera House gets paid."

The No Name Players have performed two plays each year since 1999, on a budget of no more than $900.

Connie Radcliffe, one of the troupe's founding members and director of the latest production, says the Opera House has given her a chance to interact with more members of the community.

"It's just wonderful to be part of a restorative effort," Radcliffe says. "It means we have a place to house our fine arts. It's our heritage."

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A little history

Here are a few key events in the history of the Lisbon Opera House:

1889: Sisters Alice M. Beemis and Mary Beemis Parsons commission building

1901: Opera House hosts memorial service for President McKinley

1910: First motion picture shown

1923: Last high school graduation held

1940s: Grand staircase removed

1979: Added to National Register of Historic Places

1988: Longtime first-floor tenant J.C. Penney closes

1994: Nonprofit foundation acquires building

1999: No Name Players perform first play at Opera House

2007: Elevator installation completed

If you go

- What: "Murder's in the Heir"

- Where: Lisbon (N.D.) Opera House, 413 Main St.

- When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday

- Tickets: $6. (701) 683-5119

- Donations can be sent to the Lisbon Opera House Foundation, P.O. Box 922, Lisbon, ND 58054

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5525

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