KEENE, NH — Two unique projects on historic buildings completed this year in two different New Hampshire towns by one firm: Daniel V. Scully Architects in Keene — received recognition in July.

SHOWROOM, a Colonial Performing Arts Center venue adjacent to the Colonial Theatre in downtown Keene; and the Newport Opera House and Court Building, received Merit Awards from PlanNH. The statewide nonprofit organization fosters “excellence in planning, design and development of New Hampshire’s built environment” following social, environmental and economic principles. The Merit Awards program showcases projects that reflect its mission and demonstrate contributing to communities.

“(The award) is about the context and effect of buildings,” said David Dresba, of Daniel V. Scully Architects and manager of the Newport Opera House restoration project, of the Merit Award. “It’s about how buildings fit into and support the community.”

The combined Newport Opera House and Court Building on Main Street, owned by the town of Newport, was completely restored during a recent two-year project completed this spring.

The original building, built in 1872, served as the town hall and was destroyed by fire before being rebuilt in 1886. In 1904, a three-story stage with wraparound balcony was added, along with extensive electrical equipment and was referred to as “the largest stage north of Boston.” By the 1980s, the county courthouse took over the former town hall space on the first floor — the opera house, which seats 675, is on the second floor.

Work that was completed includes a new roof and restoration of the clock tower steeple; historic stained-glass windows (that had been in storage) were restored and reinstalled. With the replacement of the opera house floor, sound attenuation allows the hall to be used when the court is in session. Other improvements include the refurbishment of the wooden stairs at the building’s main entrance, improvements to the food service area and the addition of ADA-compliant restrooms.

Scully’s architectural firm was hired more than 20 years ago to do a historic assessment report on the building with a list of existing conditions and recommendations for restoration and improvement.

By renovating and creating an accessible space available to all, people now gather for community events, opera house shows, and high school graduations.

“The opera house has a long history of being the social center of town,” said Drasba. “It’s also an incredible addition to the arts community. Making more modern active use of this building is very exciting.”

While the Newport Opera House and Court Building needed maintenance, the building that houses SHOWROOM needed to be completely altered.

A two-story automobile showroom in the 1920s, the 800-seat Colonial Theatre (the building and venue’s owner) needed a flexible theater space that could be more accommodating to smaller regional events, providing greater access to the stage for performances, conferences or other gatherings around tables.

The project involved installing a flat floor that could convert into a 155-seat theater for everything from movies to concerts, thanks to retractable seating.

The renovations, completed during the pandemic, also honor the building’s industrial past by reusing two removed steel beams as exterior seating to create an outdoor gathering area and mini greenspace.

When lit up at night, the lobby’s vibrant colors attract traffic to SHOWROOM, which is beneficial as it is the first venue that is part of Keene’s arts corridor, an effort by the city and other local economic development and arts organizations to turn Gilbo Avenue and surrounding block into a walkable arts and culture hub downtown.

“I like to think of (SHOWROOM) as like a car that’s stock on the outside and supercharged and capable of anything on the inside,” said Scully. “The real transformation will be how it adds to the cultural life of the community. That’s the exciting by-product of it.” 

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