Renovation of Essex Opera House underway
The Essex Opera House is in the midst of renovations that will turn the venerable old building into event space for work retreats, wedding parties, and other community events.
Originally constructed in 1877 at 900 Nebraska Ave., the building was moved to its current location at 701 Iowa Ave. in 1894. It served as the community’s opera house until 1947, when it was sold to the Essex American Legion Weatherall-Hadden-Holmes Post 333, serving as the American Legion’s meeting and event location until 2010, when it was once again sold and became a bar until 2015.
After the bar closed, the building sat empty until November 2019, when it was purchased by the City of Essex. In 2020, the city appointed a committee to begin the restoration process, including Chairperson Diane Liljedahl. Liljedahl said fundraising has been going on in earnest.
“To date, we’ve raised over $80,000,” said Liljedahl. We will have a new kitchen, complete with new electrical plumbing and cabinets that were a huge donation, as well as all new appliances that were also donated for the kitchen space. We are going to have an elevated space with some soft seating for smaller meetings or to allow for larger meetings to break off into groups.”
In addition, the bathrooms have been redone and all new plumbing and electrical wiring have been installed. The existing HVAC unit is still functional. However, some larger portions of the project still remain.
“The dry wall is being installed this month, and painting is also scheduled to be underway soon. We have new signage for the building front. New flat-screen TVs have been donated as well. The building will be ready to host a business meeting or a graduation party and use the TVs for streaming videos; they’ll have a capability to do so. The occupancy of the building will be around 150 persons,” commented Liljedahl. “Other items, such as the interior doors have not arrived yet either. Once the dry wall goes up and the interior painting is complete, it is going to make a huge difference. Right now, a lot of the work we’ve done isn’t very visible, but now we’re at the stage where renovations are going to make a visible difference to the interior and exterior of the building.
Renovation plans for the building kicked off in 2020, unfortunately during the COVID-19 pandemic. Construction started in increments and then things slowed down for the past several months before there was a flurry of activity. However, the group is still feeling the aftereffects of COVID.
“It’s affected the availability of supplies and materials we need have been delayed. We have experienced inflation that has affected our initial budget. Plus, when you get into a building like this, you always find other maintenance issues you hadn’t planned on,” explained Liljedahl.
“We are looking forward to having visitors to our community over the Labor Day weekend, and hope the guests will take note of all the progress we have made,” Liljedahl stated.
She added she is very excited to have the additional meeting space available in the Essex community.
“I’m still very excited about the project and being able to give something back to the community. It’s going to be a very usable space, and we have a need for it in Essex and southwest Iowa. This space should fill the needs that are lacking in other available spaces in the community. We will be open to serve Southwest Iowa, not just Essex or Shenandoah, so if someone wants to hold a district or regional meeting, we’re open for that,” said Liljedahl.
Liljedahl added anyone wanting to rent the space after it is open will be able to contact Essex City Hall at 712-379-3444. Anyone wishing to make a donation can mail checks to City of Essex, P.O. Box 428, Essex, IA 51638.
While plans initially called for the renovations to be done by Labor Day, Liljedahl said due to supply chain delays, that time frame is no longer feasible. She said the hopes are that the renovations will be completed by the end of the year.