The Smith Opera House
The magnificent Smith Opera House opened on October 29, 1894, with a production of The Count of Monte Cristo, starring James O’Neill, father of playwright Eugene O’Neill. The Richardsonian Romenesque-style theater was the dream of local philanthropist and businessman William Smith, constructed with the vision of bringing culture and entertainment to the Finger Lakes area.
The Opera House has remained true to its founder’s vision, providing a home for the arts in the Finger Lakes for generations of Genevans and city visitors.
Over its 120 years, the Smith has operated under at least three different names and been saved from the wrecking ball at least twice. In two incarnations the Opera House served strictly as a “movie house,” including many years as the Schine Enterprises’ cutting edge “atmospheric movie palace.”
Today’s opera house reflects these different incarnations. A massive restoration project launched in 1994 set as its goal the renovation of the building’s exterior to its original 1894 facade, and the interior to its 1931 eclectic art deco opulence. A dated marquee was removed from above the outside doors, revealing detailed busts of William Shakespeare and Edwin Booth. Damaged from the marquee installation, the busts were recast. Glass doors were installed at the entrance way to simulate its original open air atmosphere.
Inside, the decorative aspects of the theater were restored in exquisite detail. Just as in the 1930s, the twinkling stars of the blue-sky theater remain to delight patrons to this day.
The Smith Opera House continues as one of the oldest operating performing arts theaters in the United States. It is recognized by the National Register of Historic Places and has been called an architectural gem by The New York Times and the Smithsonian. The Smith has presented a variety of programs from burlesque to Bruce Springsteen and the Avett Brothers to its stage. Recent programming additions such as The Smith Club Series and the City Series have allowed the Smith to branch out with performers like the Wood Brothers, Kathleen Edwards and Jason Isbell. The Smith continues its tradition as an active partner in the cultural and community life of Geneva and surrounds, featuring local performances, hosting meetings, and cheering area students as they cross our stage each June for their high school graduations.
The Smith Center for the Arts is both a presenting organization and a catalyst for enhancing the role of the arts in the Finger Lakes. The organization owns and operates the historic Smith Opera House, and coordinates numerous other arts advocacy projects. It is led by a Board of Directors, and through its committee structure, leaders of other arts organizations in the Geneva area participate in knowledge-sharing and joint identification of strategic initiatives.
The organization was formed in November 2008 through the merger of the Finger Lakes Regional Arts Council, Inc. and the Geneva Arts Development Council, which had determined that they could accomplish their missions more effectively by working as one. In 2009, the Board renamed the organization the Smith Center for the Arts, Inc.
The Center Stage Act II Capital Campaign is underway with the installation of air-conditioning, upgrades to stage, new ticketing system, new movie screen and digital projector and new street kiosk. Pending projects include facade illumination, upgrades to restroom facilities, new concession stand and more. These improvements and upgrades will help us achieve our vision for the Smith Center for the Arts and better serve the community and the Finger Lakes region. To learn more on how you can contribute to the campaign, please contact Jan Regan, Interim Executive Director at firstname.lastname@example.org or 315-789-2221.