Oldest Theater in Michigan to Re-Open After Year-Long Renovation

Oldest Theater in Michigan to Re-Open After Year-Long Renovation

The Croswell Opera House in downtown Adrian is reopening its doors after undergoing extensive renovations for the past year.

The Croswell, named for a former governor of Michigan who helped build the theater, first opened in 1866. The League of Historic American Theatres lists it as the oldest in the state. It has been in continuous operation for 151 years.

Jere Righter, the Croswell's artistic director, said the recently completed renovations were aimed at making the Croswell viable as a 21st-century producing theater while preserving its historic character. The changes included adding more restrooms, installing an elevator, and creating new public spaces inside the building, including a studio theater that will serve as a second performance venue. Electrical, lighting and sound equipment was also upgraded.

"This project was all about creating a better experience for the audience and making the Croswell more sustainable," Righter said. "At the same time, we wanted to keep all of the things that make the Croswell what it is and stay true to that heritage."

The auditorium, which seats 640 people and features elaborate plaster detailing that dates from 1921, maintained its previous appearance. The theater was repainted and its floor refinished, with new carpeting and curtains, but its architectural elements were left unchanged.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder toured the newly renovated space with local legislators on April 30.

The Croswell was originally known as Adrian Union Hall and became known as Croswell's Opera House in the 1880s, when former Gov. Charles Croswell's son was its manager. It was converted into a movie theater in 1919 and continued in that role until 1967, when the Butterfield chain decided to end its lease on the building. At the time, it was in danger of being demolished, but then it was purchased by local business owner Charles Hickman and taken over by a local organization, which started once again producing live theater in the space.

This summer will mark the Croswell's 50th season of live theater since the building was saved from destruction.

The Croswell will mark its reopening May 6 and 7 with a concert by Under the Streetlamp, a national touring band that has recorded several specials for public television. The band includes Adrian native Shonn Wiley, who performed on the Croswell stage as a boy.

Two more concerts will follow, and then the Croswell will begin its 2017 musical theater season, which kicks off with "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" in June and Lin-Manuel Miranda's "In the Heights" in July.

The recently concluded renovations cost about $6.3 million and work lasted for a year. In June 2016, the theater received a $2.5 million gift from George and Julianne Argyros of Newport Beach, California. Julianne Argyros is an Adrian native and a graduate of Adrian High School. Nearly 400 individuals, businesses and foundations donated to the renovation campaign.

"We were absolutely blown away by the response to this project," Righter said. "It really speaks to just how many people's lives have been touched by the Croswell and what it means to our community and our region."

The Croswell Opera House is at 129 E. Maumee St., Adrian. For more information about the Croswell or upcoming productions, go to croswell.org or call 517-264-7469.


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