ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOX) – The Kiel Opera House was once part of the heartbeat of downtown, and the site of numerous nationally televised events. But after being closed and forgotten for more than two decades this weekend marks it’s official rebirth.
John Urban, executive vice president for events and new business for the now Peabody Opera House and Scottrade Center is like a proud father talking about the thousands of people who took a tour last weekend as part of the Taste of St. Louis festivities.
“People were oohing and ahhing, and taking pictures,” said Urban. For some, it was a chance to see the Peabody for the first time, for others, a chance to relive special memories. Urban recounts one moment he witnessed between a father and his three kids. “The father in this family sort of got to stage left. He says, ‘Summer of 1978, I’m sitting in a seat right up there.’ And he is literally pointing to somewhere he was sitting, and he’s telling this whole story about the Stones’ show as if it was 1978.”
Click here to hear Debbie Monterrey’s feature on the Peabody:
The restoration of the Kiel was announced just 14-months ago. An incredibly tight timeline considering the amount of work that needed to be done. “The building was not ADA accessible at all. The building did not have any fire protection system, no sprinkler system at all. There was no air-conditioning in the building. It sounds really simple right? In an old building like this, where do you put the air conditioners?” explained Christopher McKee the President of Optimus Development and one of the Peabody’s owners. (And believe it or not, when McKee was asked about any special Kiel Opera House memories he admitted, “The first time I ever walked into the building was the first time Dave Checketts gave me a tour.”)
Some last minute work is taking place a few days before opening night, but Urban says they’re ready to go. Most of the restoration was done by hand which brought on a whole new set of challenges. McKee says it wasn’t easy finding the workers, or artists, as he calls them, “The gentleman that did all the plaster repair work on the building was 81 years old, and he is semi-retired. They pulled him out of retirement to do the plaster work because its really more of an art than a science. And that kind of plaster work, especially on the old sections of the building, no one does anymore. “
Besides restoring the beauty of opera house, a wall shared with Scottrade Center has been thickened. Off the grand lobby is a portico that’s been turned into a balcony overlooking Market Street. And across the street, there’s more activity and work being done. Urban says his team has worked closely with the city and the Parks Department in an effort to beautify Schiller Park. The Peabody has four conference rooms on either side of the main stage and one of them has been turned into a VIP lounge. The overall Art Deco aesthetic has been maintained “Its a style that never goes out of style. Its always cool,” boasts Urban.
Urban says the Peabody Opera House is part of new beginnings for this end of Market Street. The official grand opening is this Saturday night. Jay Leno and Aretha Franklin break in the new stage.
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