Beal’s Opera House connection

The recent memorial service for Elizabeth “Kris” Beal seems a fitting conclusion to the life and achievements of this remarkable woman. However, I want to add a reminder of what she also meant to and for our Opera House.

In the early 1980s, the Fredonia Village Trustees were considering the future of Village Hall. Opened in 1891 on a site originally provided by founding father Hezekiah Barker, it was badly in need of costly repair. A bipartisan group of citizens was appointed to consider the problem.

After serious study of the condition of the building they recommended that it be vacated by the village. Kris Beal, who had long-standing interest in historic preservation, immediately contacted a small group of like-minded citizens. Among them were Dan Reiff, Richard Sheil and Winnie Shepard who organized to promote preservation of the building.

In general, the group felt that the Village Hall was a landmark structure, dominating and adding definition to historic Barker Common while demolition would drastically change the character of the central downtown area. There was particular interest in the possibility of renovating and reopening the Opera House, by then a derelict movie house, which comprised the rear third of the building and which, it was felt, could function again as the dynamic civic cultural center which it had been in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The preservationists had their work cut out for them, but through a rapidly growing membership, effective educational efforts, and “getting out the vote” campaigns for a village financial bonding to begin the first chapter to save the building, a referendum passed overwhelmingly. It was clear most Fredonians were appalled by the idea of a blank lot in place of the venerable building.

It is hard, today, to imagine Fredonia without its 1891 Opera House, which would be the case had it not been for those with vision, skills and a “we can do it” attitude many not having their roots in this region. The early inspiration, motivation and torch-bearing for today’s Village Hall/Opera House was in the hands of very few, none greater than the indefatigable Kris Beal.

Jim Boltz is a Fredonia resident.