Friends of Fair Park director Craig Holcomb cites the Arts Combine marketing study two years ago indicating that East Dallas is a gold mine for promoters of performing arts.

“The computerized sorting of all season ticket holders in all arts groups showed that the 75214 zip code (located in the center of East Dallas) had the most ticket holders. That’s not a percentage – it’s sheer numbers,” Holcomb says.

All the more reason for East Dallas residents to carefully consider the one-year, half-cent sales tax vote Aug. 8 benefiting Fair Park.

Approving the measure also is a vote to repair – if not totally renovate – the old Opera House, built at the turn of the century by the East Dallas architectural firm Lang and Winchell.

The two-story, 70,000-square-foot structure near Fair Park’s main entrance is presently called the Hall of Administration building.

Most people know the old Opera House, its Romanesque frills plastered over for the 1936 Centennial Exhibition to match the Art Deco surroundings, as the “Peter Wolfe Building”, so-called because it served as a workshop for the noted Dallas set designer, who once built grandiose, on-the-spot backdrops for Music Hall productions.

Funds generated by the proposed sales tax area a stop-gap measure to be used for bare-bones repair of deteriorating State Fair structures, including the old Opera House, which once accommodated 8,000 patrons.

The private funding campaign to follow, with its goal of more than $80 million, includes $780,000 for the interior redesign and renovation of the Opera House into multiple performing spaces to be made available to a long list of professional arts groups for rehearsal and performance.

Preliminary drawings include three fully equipped stages with a total of 1,599 seats, plus office space and rehearsal areas.

“We began talking with the Shakespeare Festival of Dallas about this project four years ago, when they proposed a multi-purpose arts facility for the building,” Holcomb says.

The proposal indicated that one such facility – the City’s Sammons Center for the Arts – was overbooked and had a long waiting list of “small and emerging” arts groups.

In addition to the Shakespeare Festival, potential users include organizations such as Dallas Drama Company, Dallas Black Dance Theater, Gryphon Players, Dancers Unlimited, Mahogany Dance Company, Voice of Change, Teatro Dallas and the Vocal Majority.

Stage time at the Bath House Cultural Center, 521 W. Lawther at White Rock Lake also is in great demand. The Bath House currently is used to stage the season repertory for three smaller Dallas theater companies, among other events.

Even in spaces such as the Bath House, the City’s rent charges are too high for many groups because the utilities aren’t included in the City’s financial obligations.

Holcomb says the Fair Park arts facility also will “charge some rent”, but the charges should be considerably lower, partly because there will be no mortgage payment – all renovation costs will be paid up-front.

Once the leaky roof and deteriorating columns of the building are repaired, a new and more detailed set of drawings will be sought, and interior work will begin in earnest, Holcomb says. But there are no plans to restore the building’s original Rococo façade.

“Our hope is to have all the renovations at Fair Park completed by the summer of 1994 for the World Cup Soccer Games,” Holcomb says.

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