In response to the recent COVID 19 outbreak, and out of deep care and concern for our wonderful community, the Smith has made the difficult decision to close the theater effective Monday, March 15 through at least Sunday, April 12. All scheduled programming during that time is postponed, including Friday’s Town Pants concert. Please take care. We’ll miss you.

The Smith Blog

SMITH HISTORY BLOG: Fearless Five: The Men Who Saved The Smith

by Austin Jennings

Imagine a parking lot where the Smith Opera House stands today. There’s no ornate facade, art deco interior decorations, or an auditorium with a vast starlit sky above. There’s only cracked asphalt, faded white paint, and an occasional car. In 1977, that was the fate of the Smith, known then as the Geneva Theatre. At that time it was operated by the Galaxy Theater Corporation. Their parent company, a Dutch real estate firm called Beleggingsmaatschappij Rali, put the Smith up for sale on November 1, 1977 (McNally 73-74) (Fox). All signs pointed to the city of Geneva gaining ownership of the Smith due to all the back taxes owed. They proposed to entirely demolish the building and create a parking lot in its place, despite many Genevans feeling that the “proposal seems in no way to enhance the city of Geneva, nor to offer a worthwhile alternative to its citizens” (Rogoff).

Prompted by this horrific plan, a steering committee made up of Geneva community members created the “Save the Geneva Theatre” project on December 1, 1977 in order to raise funds (Rogoff). Through that, Geneva Concerts was able to lease the Smith from Beleggingsmaatschappij Rali from January until June of 1978 (McNally 74). Unfortunately, funds were tight, and although Geneva Concerts had been able to use the theatre for three Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra concerts (Fox), they were financially unable to continue. It looked like the end was still very near for the Smith.

The Fearless Five are pictured here on the Smith’s old marquee. From left to right, they are Steve Hastings, Paul Brown, Dan Belliveau, Ken Camera, and Jeff Rathaus (McNally 76).

The Fearless Five are pictured here on the Smith’s old marquee. From left to right, they are Steve Hastings, Paul Brown, Dan Belliveau, Ken Camera, and Jeff Rathaus (McNally 76).

During that year of 1978, five Genevans decided they had grown tired of watching Geneva’s gem slowly and painfully die. They were Dan Belliveau, Paul Brown, Ken Camera, Steve Hastings, and Jeff Rathaus. Together, they vowed to bring new life to the Smith. Using their passion, their own personal funds, connections to local attorneys, and further support from Geneva Concerts, they came up with the idea for the Finger Lakes Regional Arts Council. It was to be a non-profit organization for the arts in which its first mission was to buy and revitalize the Smith (McNally 76-77). The Five went into talks with Beleggingsmaatschappij Rali in July of 1978 and in that same month the firm paid off the Smith’s back taxes, totaling $23,181 at the time. Almost miraculously, the Five’s work paid off when they were able to lease the Smith and open its doors for a fall season of performances that year on September 29th (Wilson). Their work was far from over, however, as the next couple years were filled with legal negotiations and paperwork, dubbed “a technical nightmare” (Wilson) by Paul Brown.

Every week on Sunday morning, the Five met at Turkett’s Restaurant to discuss next weeks’ plans for their beloved theatre. Dividing up the work, they would run events in addition to all the background paperwork that they did to keep the theatre alive (Fox). Then, in June of 1980, they were finally able to formally create the Finger Lakes Regional Arts Council (McNally 76-77). The new group bought the Smith, and through the Council’s care and dedication, the theatre came to be what the Smith Opera House is today, all because of the Five.

 

Works Cited

Fox, Craig. “Council to honor men who saved opera house.” Finger Lakes Times, 9 Apr 1988. Smith Opera House archives.

McNally, Charles. The Revels in Hand: The First Century of the Smith Opera House October 1894 – October 1994. Finger Lakes Regional Arts Council, 1995.

Rogoff, Daniel. “The Last Show.” “Curtains for Geneva Theatre,” The Herald [Geneva, NY], 9 Dec 1977, pp. 4. Rochester Regional Library Council. NYS Historic Newspapers, http://nyshistoricnewspapers.org/lccn/np00050001/1977-12-09/ed-1/seq-4/.

Wilson, Charles. “Curtain to rise again at Geneva Theater.” Democrat and Chronicle [Rochester, NY], 23 Sep 1978, pp. 46. Newspapers.com by Ancestry, https://www.newspapers.com/image/137024736.

 

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