Since its construction in 1869 the Bardavon Opera House, formerly known as the Collingwood Opera House, has seen many changes. Some were caused by the introduction of new technologies and others by changes in fashion and lifestyle. By the year 1900 the theatre had already been redecorated three times and scenery which once moved along grooves in the floor was now suspended in a fly loft. When the Opera House opened in 1869, its two-stage dome was considered its crowning feature. The dome is an unusual feature for a theatre auditorium. They are seen more often in cathedrals and state capitols. The theatre is believed to be the creation of J. A. Wood, who did the first plans for the Collingwood Opera House, but credit for the design was given to James S. Post, who built the theatre.
A key renovation took place in 1905 - the stage was enlarged, the fly loft heightened to its present size, and the proscenium and the box seats re-designed. In 1921/22 major renovations were undertaken. The auditorium today looks much as it did then. William Beardsley was the architect of this renovation. He was Poughkeepsie's leading architect and had worked extensively throughout New York State. His work includes the Dutchess County Courthouse located across the street from the theatre, many local schools and the Attica state prison. When the theatre re-opened as the Bardavon on January 1, 1923, it had changed from what was then seen as the Collingwood's old-fashioned horseshoe shape into a modern theatre designed for motion pictures as well as live performance.
The Bardavon décor contains many neoclassic and Italian renaissance elements, such as swags, garlands, and urns influenced by the early theatre designs of Thomas Lamb, who was the architect for several New York City theatres, including the Regent (the first deluxe theatre built expressly for showing movies), the Strand and the Cort, which is still used today for legitimate theatre. The proscenium, or stage opening, frames the stage and is 25ft high & 34ft wide. Its decoration includes passionflowers, sunflowers, daisies, and trailing trumpet vines. Above the stage, under a coat of paint there is a mural entitled "The Bard of Avon" (where the Bardavon got its name), which depicts William Shakespeare sitting on the bank of the Avon River. The stage is 26 ft deep and 65 ft wide from wall to wall. The auditorium measures approximately 80 feet from the back wall to the edge of the stage and the ceiling rises to 60 feet at the center of the dome.
The present dome in the theatre auditorium was installed in 1921/22. The decorative plasterwork of the dome's coronet was recently returned to its original glazed finish, including 22-karat gold stars that decorate a sky blue field in the center. During this renovation the Bardavon engaged Evergreene Painting Studios of New York, whose staff confirmed that the "Bard of Avon" mural on the proscenium arch is still intact under layers of paint. Restoration of this mural is planned as a future project.
The curved balcony and the walls containing decorative boxes point toward the stage. Although the original boxes in the opera house were for seats, these decorative boxes from 1923 were never meant for seating. Above each box is an elegant architrave with the bas-relief of an urn flanked by two griffins. In the space behind the false balconies are the pipes, percussion and "toy chest" of the Bardavon's original 1928 Mighty Wurlitzer organ. The Bardavon is the only theatre between New York City and Albany to still have the original theatre pipe organ designed for its space.
The theatre lobby currently features several exhibits depicting various aspects of the theater's history. The "Bright Lights" display features some of the stars of past Bardavon performances - ranging from Mark Twain to Al Pacino - and the theatrical lights that historically illuminated them. The lobby also houses original posters (rescued from the top of the present dome) and a scale model of the "hemp & sandbag fly system" created to depict the workings of the stage for the past 100 years. Another lobby panel describes the many capital renovations the theatre has experienced since 1900.
Major renovations from 1980 to 2001
With the help of generous contributions from our donors, the Bardavon has seen many recent renovations. The following projects were made possible by the 1980-83 capital campaign: stage crossover construction, backstage dressing rooms and facilities renovations, the balcony floor pitch was increased, 944 new seats were installed and the auditorium was redecorated and repainted.
The stage house itself was stabilized with steel in 1995 and a piece of the original "Collingwood" wood beam is now on display in the lobby. The Capital Campaign for the Millennium, launched in 1995, has funded the following projects; orchestra pit renovation/stage thrust replacement; auditorium ceiling and dome restoration; theatre building exterior restoration; ladies room renovation; and the loading shed/stage annex construction which resulted in a spacious, modern, two-story annex that also allows direct access from the theatre building to the Collingwood-Nuhn Building, the administrative home of the Bardavon since October 1998.
In the summer of 2001, the Marquee and Façade/Entranceway restoration projects were completed. The scope of this work included replacing the current marquee with a replication of the original 1930s design; the Bardavon Building 's façade and theater entrance were returned to the Beardsley design, the inner lobby was expanded and the box office was relocated.
In the summer of 2005, the Bardavon engaged the one of the nation's leading restoration experts, Conrad Schmitt Studios, to study and document the decorative finishes of the theater's auditorium, lobbies and 1869 dome toward providing a “road map” for a future full interior restoration. A sample panel on the right side of the proscenium executed by a CSS Restoration Artist gives our audiences a glance at the elegant 1923 hall. Other capital projects currently in design phases are major renovations to the Bardavon's HVAC system and stagehouse complex, including the gridiron/fly system, stage and under-stage infrastructure.
The Bardavon is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as much for its longstanding tradition of artists and audiences as for its vintage architecture and interior design. It is our responsibility as its stewards to effect the essential capital improvements that keep the theater viable while still respecting its heritage. The Esplanade Walk of Fame is a naming/dedication program supporting the Bardavon's current Campaign for the New Century. For details on further giving opportunities to help keep this legendary theater alive, visit Capital Campaign, Program Funding or Membership.
© 2015 Bardavon/UPAC
Last modified: 2011-08-02 16:29:45