In 2018, The Goss Opera House in downtown Watertown sat vacant with locked doors and blacked-out windows, cast in darkness.
What once was a popular place for entertainment, fun, and laughter nearly 130 years prior seemed dreary and hopeless.
Former executive director Missy Sinner says that from 2008 to 2018, the previous owner was hosting events in the building as it was, renovating as he could. But he couldn’t keep it up.
All 37,000 square feet of history, she says, were crumbling to the earth.
“The building would have been condemned if someone didn’t come in and fix it immediately,” said Sinner.
So the Friends of The Goss Opera House LLC stepped in, hoping to return the grand opera house to its former grandeur with the campaign “Light Up The Goss.”
It needed lots of TLC to get there.
“Because of the building’s age and size, we knew there would be more surprises,” said Sinner, the executive director at the time. “Our fundraising goal was a working goal.”
Ultimately, the renovation ended up costing roughly $5 million.
Sinner says some of the biggest renovations included replacing a truss in the roof, adding a modern HVAC system and air conditioning, and other structural upgrades.
the attention to history and the attention to detail really makes it an event just to tour it. -Jamie Mack
“The minute we put the steel beams in, it’s like the posture of the building was corrected,” explained Sinner.
She says that utility bills are nearly a quarter of what they once were.
“With the renovations we did, we’re already seeing huge paybacks, so it’ll hopefully pay for itself one day,” said Sinner.
In nearly every corner, the Friends of The Goss Opera House also completed many cosmetic changes, such as plaster, flooring, fixtures, and décor.
Gray Construction, the company that completed the renovations, donated a portion of what they would have been paid in order to bring The Goss to its current glory.
Preserving the Past
With much effort, the Friends of The Goss tried to save as many original murals as possible.
The art is everywhere including the Prairie Lakes Landing and the Reliabank Theatre, which is the main opera hall.
“Every day, I have this giddy feeling as I walk through there,” said current executive director Jamie Mack. “There’s a chandelier in the middle of the opera hall and I’ve never seen anything like it up close. It’s gorgeous.”
Those that could not be saved were refurbished and used to beautify elsewhere.
“On the proscenium archway on the stage, you can see there’s a stencil design on that, and that was taken off of something we had found that was original,” explained Sinner.
Inside the Goss, there is still one space that has been preserved so guests can see the dilapidated state the building had been in prior to the renovation: Maud’s Room, formerly known as Annie’s Room.
A Brief History
Charles Goss, the opera house’s namesake, was a jack of many trades. He had eight children with his wife, but only one daughter survived. He later married his daughter’s nanny and had four more boys with her.
When he moved to Watertown, he built up what he called a “Goss block,” but it burned down in 1887. Despite the community’s pleas for him to build a hotel, he instead built an opera house, the third one in Watertown at the time. Now, 130 years later, it’s the only opera house to remain. (Information provided by Sinner)
In the space, plaster is falling from the wall, the floorboards are separating, and exposed nails can be seen everywhere.
“It’s a perfect example of what all the rooms looked like before the renovation,” said Mack. “Then if you look at the other rooms, it’s beautiful.”
The story about Annie’s Room, now named Maud’s Room, that was being told in the past was one of the main reasons people used to visit The Goss.
But according to Sinner, it was false. Here’s the truth:
Maud Alexander was set on fire by her 28-year-old son, Orville. She ran up and down the hallways yelling for help before a neighbor helped extinguish her. She was then taken to the hospital, where she passed away the next morning.
A PLACE FOR THE ARTS
After about a year of renovations, Sinner says The Goss opened with its first show in years in July 2020, serving as “a creative, artistic hub for the town.”
“We’re hoping to be a resource for a lot of areas in the arts,” said Mack.
The Goss serves as host to various concerts, musicals, plays, art exhibits, weddings, showers, classes, and other events.
we want the community to feel like it’s their building. it’s not mine, it’s not the board’s, it’s our community’s building that we’re keeping up and maintaining. -Missy Sinner
“Whether it’s a bible study or an extravagant event, we can take care of all of those things now,” said Mack.
Anyone can rent out spaces with select rooms starting at $25 an hour.
“We hope to be that for the community: an all-encompassing area that people can come and feel comfortable trying different parts of the arts,” she added.
With the help of the community, the Friends of The Goss Opera House have succeeded in lighting up the historic opera house.
“Now that The Goss is complete, our vision is to light up downtown through The Goss,” said Sinner. “We would like to utilize this great big jewel to lift everyone up and make downtown a destination.”