Meridian Grand Opera House
Mississippi State University - Riley Center, 2206 Fifth Street
Meridian, MS 39301
Opened: 17 December 1890
The Meridian Grand Opera House was built by I. Marks and Levi Rothenberg next door to their Marks Rothenberg Department Store in what was then a growing town on the rail line between New Orleans and Chicago. As with many buildings from the period called "Opera Houses", it was actually a venue for vaudeville, minstrel shows and early silent film rather than for what we now call grand opera. The theatre closed in 1927 under pressure from other more-modern theatres and legal wrangling kept the facility unoccupied and untouched for almost almost seven decades. The department store next door continued operation under various names through 1990.
In the 1980s, ideas began floating in the community for a way to reopen the theatre and adapt the department store building. In 2000, the Riley Foundation contributed $10 million to restore the buildings with a stipulation that Mississippi State University own and operate the center. Along with funding by local, state, and federal agencies, a $25 million restoration began in 2002. Ironically, the period of dormancy was actually good for the facility in that much of the original interior detailing had been preserved in a way that would not have been the case if the theatre had remained active. The theatre reopened in September 2006 as part of the Riley Center, a performing arts, educational and conference center.
Life isn't fair. Charlie Parker died penniless at 35. Lawrence Welk died at 89 as one of the richest entertainers in Hollywood.