Hill Opera House
From Marquee Magazine, by Tom Thinnes, Kalamazoo Gazette, COLON, Michigan – The 81-year-old Hill Opera House, being restored to its heyday when it spotlighted the greats of the world of magic, is open for public tours.
One of the community’s most historic buildings, the old opera house is actually the upper two floors of the Colon Citizens State Bank. After being sealed up for 14 years, the opera house started taking on some new trappings when some local citizens began a restoration effort.
The tours are being offered to give interested persons a chance to sample Colon’s history and unique place in the world of show business. In its prime, the Hill Opera House was the showcase for the magical talents of Harry Blackstone Sr., Harry Houdini and Percy Abbott, the founder of the company that still produces magic contraptions and tricks in this village today.
Opened in 1898, the theater-bank building was built by the Elisha Hill family, which has played a leadership role in the community for many years.
The opera house had seating for 450 patrons, including a horseshoe balcony which could handle 100 persons. The plush, padded seats in the front of the theater were separated by a long brass rail from the cheaper wooden box seats to the back. There were four white-and-gold private boxes looming over the 1,000 square foot stage.
For many years, The Great Blackstone tried out his new tricks at the opera house before taking them on the road to places like new York, London and Paris.
Then in the years after World War II, the theater fell into disuse, except for an occasional high school graduation ceremony.
In 1964, when the bank on the first floor of the building was remodeled, the great oak staircase leading up to the theater was removed and the opera house was left to gather dust. The restoration effort was launched last spring.
In these views of the Opera House interior one can note the astounding number of architectural features in a room so small. The use of plaster rosettes with light bulbs around the edges of the balcony, the mural over the proscenium, and those FOUR boxes!
Obviously the HILL OPERA HOUSE was truly first class for its day.