E.E. Warren Opera House honored for preservation


The historic Warren Cultural Center in Greenfield has once again taken its place as the "grand lady" of town square. Enabled by REAP funding, its expansive windows, oxidized copper accents and distinctive turret provide the architectural foundation for the three-story brick structure that serves as a landmark destination for culture, art and commerce in southwest Iowa.

The multi-purpose center occupies nearly 30,000 square feet- an entire corner of Greenfield Square. In addition to the restructured opera house auditorium and balcony that seats 240, it provides office space, conference and meeting rooms, guest rooms and a spacious lobby and gallery that showcases art and photography exhibits.

Ed & Eva's (the Warrens' first names) occupies the  ground floor retail space, once home to the Warrens' dry goods store. It sells a collection of works by more than 80 Iowa artists, who receive 70 per cent commission from sales. The original dry goods store sign still resides inside Ed & Eva's, which sells pieces varying from metal sculpture and woodwork to handmade jewelry and bar ware. 

Originally built in 1896 and put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, a century later and in disrepair the building was gifted to Main Street Greenfield by a private citizen in 1996.

In 2000, the E. E. Warren Opera House Association (EEWOHA) was formed as a non-profit corporation, officially taking the reins for redevelopment of the property. REAP funding was secured through an Historical Resource Development Program grant in 2010.

Iowa REAP funds were used to remove the storefront and restore its copper trim. The original double-hung windows were repaired, restored, and thermally upgraded, using preprinted metal frames that matched the original wood-profile paneling and insulated glass that facilitates higher energy efficiency and stability. The copper and mortar on the parapet was also selectively tuck-pointed and refabricated to match the existing finish, keeping the majority of the copper original on the turret.

"Most of the brick was repointed and it has to be done in a very particular was to meet the historical standards," explained director Ken Sidey. 

"The removal and replacement process was carefully orchestrated among mason, copper contractors, roofers and other laborers, since each building component installation had a direct impact on the others. Because sometimes two or three lifts were in use at once, safety for pedestrians and drivers was a top priority," said EEWOHA vice-president Catherine Howe.

Howe explained the impact of REAP funding on the project's success: "As an early funding source during the capital campaign, the REAP grant demonstrated the confidence the State of Iowa had in the realization of the vision for these historic buildings. When potential supporters see evidence there is broad based support within the community in addition to county, state and federal sources, they are willing to make the investment. To know that as a contributor each dollar had the potential to be matched 2 or 3 times, their willingness to commit increased. The potential donor is also convinced of the sponsoring organization's creativity and commitment in securing project funding when the base for support reaches diverse sources."

The restoration project dollars have found their way into the local economy in several ways, Howe said. As required by grant funding, $1.3 million has gone to Greenfield contractors. Additional spending has gone to firms and workers in nearby towns. Local restaurants, lodging and stores have benefited as well.

Along with numerous local and state awards, the Warren Cultural Center was awarded the prestigious National Preservation Honor Award by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2013. - The Adair News

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