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Building a link between the past and present

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by Reneé Mizar

Communications Coordinator, Museum & Arts Center in the Sequim-Dungeness Valley

Amid the ever-changing composition of Sequim’s business district, few if any buildings offer a link to the city’s past as tangible and far-reaching as the Sequim Opera House.

 

Pre-dating city incorporation and the coming of the railroad by a handful of years, the two-story landmark located at 119 N. Sequim Ave. has cut a consistent shape in the downtown landscape since its construction by Austin Smith in 1906.

 

Commissioned by original owner and eminent entrepreneur Charles Franklin Seal, the Sequim Opera House opened with a musical concert on June 15, 1907, and would become a mainstay of Sequim’s social scene and a pivotal player in forming the downtown commercial core.

 

“In addition to the building now being a historical landmark, the opera house was an important social hub of early Sequim,” said MAC Executive Director DJ Bassett, who toured the opera house with the Clallam County Heritage Advisory Board last summer. “Given that a good swath of people in town, be they politicians, businessmen, farmers, what have you, gathered shoulder-to-shoulder in the upstairs auditorium for public functions on a regular basis, it served as a vital community-building venue.”

 

The longtime location of Bauer Interior Designs and a second-floor storage area, the opera house played host to a wide array of community activities over the decades. Dances, musical concerts, stage productions, silent film screenings, public meetings, Sequim High School graduations and an annual Christmas party for area children were among the events held in the auditorium, while  longtime area residents may recall such stores as Rose-Lee Flowers having occupied the retail space at street level.

 

“The opera house is sort of an enigma. It’s sort of a classic, blocky wood frame building made from local materials that’s reminiscent of taller, prairie-style, two-story barn structures. I have to believe it’s agriculturally derived,” Sequim mayor and architect Ken Hays said of the building’s architecture.

 

“There’s just a simplicity and massive blocky style about it. It has a typical Dutch hip roof, which is very reminiscent of early Dutch prairie barns.”

 

Hays will discuss the opera house and other historical buildings throughout the area in “Architectural Styles and Influences in the Sequim-Dungeness Valley,” a history presentation at 10 a.m. Friday, Jan. 18, at the historical Dungeness Schoolhouse, 2781 Towne Road in Sequim. Sponsored by the Museum & Arts Center in the Sequim-Dungeness Valley, program admission is $5 and payable at the door. Visit www.macsequim.org for more information.

 

Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1991, the Sequim Opera House remains the only commercial building with that honorary distinction located within the current city limits. Location, continued use and preservation-minded maintenance, which in recent years has included re-siding and re-roofing efforts, have contributed to the building’s longevity, said Hays.

 

“The practical things have allowed it to survive — being built with old-growth fir, which has a fairly high resistance to decay, and a good roof kept on it,” Hays said.

 

“A building like the opera house had a high functionality in the center of town and was adaptable to other uses, so people kept using it. It’s a big enough structure that it would take a significant economic force to make the land enough more valuable to justify tearing it down.”

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