Middletown’s Sorg Opera House among ‘endangered’ historic sites

The Sorg Opera House has been named to the 2016 list of Ohio's Most Endangered Historic Sites, a designation the non-profit organization working to renovate the architectural treasure hopes will help raise money for the building's rebirth.

Preservation Ohio, the state’s oldest non-profit statewide preservation organization, announced the places that made this year’s list during a ceremony Wednesday at the Ohio Statehouse.

Six members of the non-profit Sorg Opera Revitalization Group (SORG) board attended the ceremony, “and I think we had the largest contingent of all the projects,” said board secretary Denise Brodsky, who took off work to be there.

The opera house, constructed in 1890, was designed by architect Samuel Hannaford, who also designed the nearby Sorg Mansion at 206 S. Main St., as well as Cincinnati’s Music Hall and City Hall.

“We hope it will continue to boost our momentum,” Brodsky said. “We’ve had great momentum since the Women’s Wine and Chocolate Walk” this past weekend. “We have over 400 ladies come in and experience the opera house for the very first time, and many of these ladies were not from Middletown, but from various other places around the state of Ohio, and they were just enamored by the building and the uniqueness of it, and the fact you don’t find theaters of this age and character around the state so much anymore, unless you go into the Big C’s — Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus.”

“But here, we have this little gem right here in Middletown, Ohio, and they see it as a great landmark, and a destination for when it’s open and we’re performing out of it,” Brodsky said.

“We will persevere to preserve the historic property,” she added.

This is the 23rd year Preservation Ohio has published its list of Ohio’s most endangered historic sites, according to Carol Merry, president of the board of trustees for Preservation Ohio.

Among successes during that time, the organization mentioned in its statewide press release, were the organization’s “recognition of the Westcott House in Springfield, a Frank Lloyd Wright design,” which “led to a multi-million dollar restoration,” as well as the Anthony Wayne Hotel in Hamilton and other landmarks. Not all designations lead to buildings being saved, she noted.

The endangered list “is composed of properties that are nominated by local advocates,” Merry said. “We don’t say that this is the be-all-and-end-all list around Ohio of endangered properties, because we know there are many more.”

Other area buildings on the list are the Dennison Hotel Building in Cincinnati (another Hannaford-designed structure); and three in Montgomery County: Dayton Arcade, the former Dayton Daily News building, and the Gem City Ice Cream Building, which housed the Wright Brothers’ first bicycle shop in 1892.

Brodsky credited SORG President Chuck Miller for his efforts to win the designation, and said SORG’s “very energetic and enthusiastic board” is making progress.

Restoration efforts received disappointing news this spring when a $1 million request for state funding was not included in the state's two-year capital budget.

“It’s a way for us to really begin to reach out and raise the awareness of how important our historic structures and sites are for us in Ohio,” Brodsky said. “(Preservation Ohio) is doing a wonderful job of advocacy and really promoting the importance of preserving our past.”

SORG is launching a “ten for 10,000” campaign, from which supporters hope to get 10,000 people — from Middletown and elsewhere, including former area residents — to each donate $10, for a total of $100,000.

“When we hit that mark, we will have made enough to do the necessary life-safety issues that are required to get our temporary occupancy permit,” Brodsky said. Before the theater can again have performances, the organization needs to repair emergency doors, sprinkler system and plumbing.

“Ten dollars is not that difficult for people to reach into their pocket and give,” she said. “It’s pretty much what you spend on a lunch during the work week. So we think that’s very do-able.”

SORG eventually plans to return its storefronts and upstairs offices to use.

In another fundraising effort, SORG is selling 60-year-old Colonial theater seats from the opera house.

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