ALBION — It was so much more than just a building.
And it was worth saving.
Attorneys Everett and Helen Newman purchased the Albion Opera House on Jefferson Street in Albion in January and have turned it into the office for their law practice.
Along the way, they have poured thousands of dollars into restoring and reinvigorating the structure.
The Albion S.T.A.R. Team had been caretakers for the property for several years, and it had been mostly vacant during that time. S.T.A.R. Team president Steve Hook said the building was owned by the Noble County Courthouse Square Historic Preservation Society.
According to a S.T.A.R. Team history of the building written by Joy LeCount, it was built by Charles Albert Howard. First a farmer, Howard owned several businesses, including being a basket maker.
He was also the owner of Howard’s Opera House.
“Constructed in 1884, brick work was completed in July,” according to LeCount’s history. “Howard and his floor manager, Rocco Garamone, a barber and Italian harpist of fame, hosted an Opening Ball for Howard’s Opera House on Oct. 23, 1884.”
The venue was host to several unique events, including “a walking match held on Jan. 1, 1885, between Miss (May) Marshall and Samuel Bixler.”
In the mid-1880s, Noble County government moved its offices into the structure for 18 months while a new county courthouse was under construction. From 1908-1929, the Albion Opera House was used for the Noble County Common School Graduation, which involved eighth-grade students receiving their diplomas at the Noble County Courthouse, followed by a program at the Opera House.
The Opera House served as an armory in World War II, with equipment being stored on the first floor. Training took place on the second floor.
Basketball games were also played at the Opera House.
The structure had fallen into disrepair, however.
That struck a nerve with Everett and Helen Newman, who in their roles as attorneys, frequently have business across the street at the Noble County Courthouse.
“We didn’t want to come to the courthouse every day and watch it decay,” Everett said. “We always liked this building. I like preserving history. Helen liked the building. She saw more potential than I did.”
The Opera House had gotten rough around the edges, but its structural integrity was intact.
“The potential of the building had been preserved,” Everett said.
The couple rolled up their sleeves and went to work, even before the official closing on Jan. 25.
“It was daunting,” Everett said.
The couple have spent hours ripping up carpet, hauling sand and doing masonry work. He may make his living with a pen, but a sledgehammer was his tool of obligation during some stretches of the project.
“Doc’s Hardware loves us,” Everett said. “I’ve got all sorts of tools I didn’t have before.”
Some of the wood floors have been restored, and the original brick interior walls re-exposed. The couple have also uncovered the original tin ceilings in some of the rooms.
Special craftsmen have been employed to do some of the more intricate work.
Because the Opera House is a landmark, special guidance on the restoration is required.
“It’s not a museum, but it is an important building,” said Todd Zeigler, director of the northern regional office of Indiana Landmarks. “We want the history to be preserved and for the building to be secure. It’s a partnership.”
Doing repairs that meet Indiana Landmarks’ guidelines has only added expense to the project. But the Newmans wanted to do it right, anyway.
“If we don’t do it right, it’s not going to last,” Helen said.
But the organization does know that the building needs to be usable, with some modern updates.
“They understood if the building isn’t functional, nobody is going to buy it,” Everett said.
Because the couple have worked so hard themselves, the Opera House has taken on a special meaning for them. It’s nothing like coming to a regular office for work.
“It’s different,” Everett said. “You’ve got your sweat in it.”
The couple are doing work on the second floor, with the possibility of turning the space into an apartment where they can live.
The overall results show a transformation.
“I knew it was going to be beautiful,” Helen said. “The building is beautiful and makes you care.”
Because the Newmans care, the Opera House has been saved from falling into disrepair. Once again, it is a vibrant part of the town’s downtown.
“We like history, but we don’t live in the past,” Everett said. “It had to be something worth keeping, but it also had to be something worth using.”