The magnificent Smith Opera House opened on October 29, 1894, with a production of The Count of Monte Cristo, starring James O’Neill, father of playwright Eugene O’Neill. The Richardsonian Romenesque-style theater was the dream of local philanthropist and businessman William Smith, constructed with the vision of bringing culture and entertainment to the Finger Lakes area.
The Opera House has remained true to its founder’s vision, providing a home for the arts in the Finger Lakes for generations of Genevans and city visitors.
Over its 120 years, the Smith has operated under at least three different names and been saved from the wrecking ball at least twice. In two incarnations the Opera House served strictly as a “movie house,” including many years as the Schine Enterprises’ cutting edge “atmospheric movie palace.”
Today’s opera house reflects these different incarnations. A massive restoration project launched in 1994 set as its goal the renovation of the building’s exterior to its original 1894 facade, and the interior to its 1931 eclectic art deco opulence. A dated marquee was removed from above the outside doors, revealing detailed busts of William Shakespeare and Edwin Booth. Damaged from the marquee installation, the busts were recast. Glass doors were installed at the entranceway to simulate its original open air atmosphere.
Inside, the decorative aspects of the theater were restored in exquisite detail. Just as in the 1930s, the twinkling stars of the blue-sky theater remain to delight patrons to this day.
The Smith Opera House continues as one of the oldest operating performing arts theaters in the United States. It is recognized by the National Register of Historic Places and has been called an architectural gem by The New York Times and the Smithsonian. The Smith has presented a variety of programs from burlesque to Bruce Springsteen and the Avett Brothers to its stage. Recent programming additions such as The Smith Club Series and the City Series have allowed the Smith to branch out with performers like the Wood Brothers, Kathleen Edwards and Jason Isbell. The Smith continues its tradition as an active partner in the cultural and community life of Geneva and surrounds, featuring local performances, hosting meetings, and cheering area students as they cross our stage each June for their high school graduations.