The Sarasota Opera House was originally the A.D. Edwards Theatre, which opened in 1926, and was named after Sarasota’s first Mayor. It is characteristic of Mediterranean Revival Style architecture which was very common in Florida at that time. The original Edwards Theatre showcased operas, musicals, silent films, vaudeville and continued to show talking films until 1936 when it was forced into bankruptcy due to the depression. In 1939, the theatre was renamed the Florida Theatre, and in 1952, the “Greatest Show on Earth”, directed by Cecil D. DeMille, was filmed in Sarasota and premiered at the Florida Theatre.
In 1973, the theatre closed and eventually was purchased by the Sarasota Opera in 1978. Beginning in 1984, the Sarasota Opera had their presentations in the Edwards Theatre and it became known as the Sarasota Opera House and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The theatre had several remodel phases that continued through 1992. However, due to aging equipment and major changes in the cost and size of operas presented the Edwards Theatre required a major rehabilitation to meet the current needs of the Sarasota Opera Association.
After 47 seasons, the Sarasota Opera began a capital campaign in 2005 with the intent to raise capital construction money for the rehabilitation of the building, endowment money, and endowment money based on long-term plan giving for the future. This was a total campaign of $60 Million. Currently, the Sarasota Opera Association has raised approximately $37 Million of that total goal as of this writing. The major capital campaign involved a $20 Million fund for both hard and soft costs, operational costs during the construction phase and funds that would allow the opera company to continue operating through the one-year hiatus to complete construction.
Construction began on March 14, 2007 with the grand reopening on March 1, 2008. During this time, the opera house was completely rehabilitated from the ground up including expansion of the orchestra pit, new spring stage structure, new raked auditorium orchestra level and seating, re-raking balcony and seating, new finishes throughout the auditorium, front of house and stage, new roofing systems and restructuring of the building and the windows to meet current Dade County, Florida hurricane standards.
All of this work was completed in 12 months along with the complete modernization of the stage house, theatrical lighting, theatrical rigging and theatrical sound and com. systems. The work on the Sarasota Opera was approved through the Florida Archives and History Department since the building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
This rehabilitation of the Sarasota Opera House allowed the building to be used for the production of operas, an opera festival along with rentals in the off season. The Sarasota Opera Association is an organization with 35 staff members that grows to 250 staff members during the opera festival each spring opera season. The expansion of the building, structural upgrades and upgrades for ADA accessibility was completed with a construction management process with the General Contractor, Willis Smith Construction, brought in to work with the Design Team at the mid-point of design development and worked closely with the entire Design Team all the way through opening night.
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