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The Smith Blog

SMITH HISTORY BLOG: National Crests

by Austin Jennings

Side walls of the Smith, during restoration and afterwards. Pictures found in the Smith Opera House Archives.

Side walls of the Smith, during restoration and afterwards. Pictures found in the Smith Opera House Archives.

If you have attended events at the Smith in the past 20 years, you may have noticed the numerous crests painted on the side walls of the theatre, above the sunset frescos and just below the starry ceiling. During the interior restorations and renovations of the Smith in the late 1990s, these 42 crests depicting 37 unique national emblems were rediscovered. As is the case with most of the current interior of the Smith, they were created as a part of the renovations that turned the Smith Opera House into Schine’s Geneva Theatre in 1931. They did not last long at Schine’s, however, as they were painted over during WWII in a patriotic effort to cover up nationalistic images of the Axis Powers (Broach). Since many members of our armed forces at that time frequented the theatre from the Sampson Base, the crests may have also been covered up in order to not offend them (Lavin).

 

Paint restoration of the French crest in progress. Picture found in the Smith Opera House Archives as a part of a Smith Opera House Center Stage booklet.

Paint restoration of the French crest in progress. Picture found in the Smith Opera House Archives as a part of a Smith Opera House Center Stage booklet.

The existence of the crests had become myth to those involved at the Smith. Once found, though, no expense was spared in restoring them. By the end of 1999, it had cost $21,000 just to install the scaffolding to reach them from the ground floor. From there, the gold paint that covered the crests was painstakingly removed in a way that would not damage the national paintings underneath.

The crests were then repainted to their full original glory. Unfortunately, two crests had been severely damaged by roof leaks, so they had to be recast in plaster and then painted. While the crests were being restored, board members of the Finger Lakes Regional Arts Council worked hard to learn about their history. They theorized that these specific 37 countries were represented in 1931 in reference to either the League of Nations (although the U.S. was never a member and 6 of the crests depict the U.S.) or the countries who signed the Kellogg-Briand Paris Pact for peace after WWI (Broach).

Works Cited

Broach, Louise Hoffman. “Opera house crests uncovered.” Finger Lakes Times, 6 Jan 2000. Smith Opera House Archives.

Lavin, Gregory C. “Pre-WWII National Escutcheons; Cloud Machine.” Letter to Jim Foley, 10 Jan 2000. Smith Opera House Archives.

Japanese crest, during restoration and afterwards. Pictures found in Smith Opera House Archives.

Japanese crest, during restoration and afterwards. Pictures found in Smith Opera House Archives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Collage of additional pictures of the crests, found in the Smith Opera House Archives

Collage of additional pictures of the crests, found in the Smith Opera House Archives