There were smiles all around in Alma on Tuesday, Oct. 8, especially at the “cornerstone” of Alma. The people of Alma finally got to step inside the newly renovated Wright Leppien Opera House. The opening took place in Zimmerman Hall, named after late Alma College student, Joseph Zimmerman who graduated in 1961.
The building was built from 1877 tp 1880 by Ammi Wright and had been a place full of emotional memories for many people in the community. The original design was only for a small store but the idea turned into something larger than expected and could then fit five stores and had the Opera House on top which was originally called Barton Hall.
The Opera House caught fire on Thursday, Oct. 14, 2010 and luckily was able to be preserved. Many people reminisced how they felt when the building was burning. John Leppein said, “I thought the smoke would never leave,” when referring to that dreaded night. Hearing the murmurs through the room, many were elated that the Opera House was “structurally sound” after the fire nearly ten years ago and could not wait for it to reopen.
The gathering opened with Alma Choir’s own Pretty in Plaid and Scots on the Rocks performing a few songs, one being “Loch Lomond” which is sung at many different Alma College functions and is just an all-around favorite song.
Donors and members of the community gathered to see what the 140 year-old building now looks like. President Abernathy took the floor by thanking all the contributions, big and small. A few key people on his long list of ‘thank you’s’ include the Leppien family, Mayor of Alma, Greg Mapes, Dr. Jeff Holmes and his wife Ginna and David McMacken.
Chaplain Andrew Pomerville began his invocation by saying, “Today we are here to give thanks and recognize what has happened in this space that we are currently standing in and looking forward to in the future with so much joy and hope for all the new memories we will be making in this space.” The expressions of deep gratitude for the memories they have and will have on people’s faces in that very room.
After all, according to the wall with the history of the building, in 1886, the establishment of Alma College was announced in the Opera House. Alma College took ownership of the Opera House in December 2017 and the plans for renovation were later announced in August 2018. Forty-one donors and nine businesses provided over $6.5 million in philanthropic support on top of the $1.5 million grant from Michigan Economic Development Corporation.
The Opera House ballroom once hosted events such as town meetings, theatrical
productions, public lectures, and concerts. The building houses 30 apartments and soon to be three small businesses along with having additional rooms insides such as the Hall. According to Mayor Greg Mapes, three businesses are preparing to open on the ground floor. They businesses opening are an e-sports arena called “Block House,” a women’s boutique called “Show Ring Bling,” and Nutrition Club “Healthies of Mid-Mitten.”
Not long after the fire, the Opera House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2013. It truly is a historic landmark for Alma and will continue to be for the years to come, especially with the new renovations. The building truly is “the heart of Alma.”