Memories and meatballs

Historic Baum Opera House lives on

By Joyell Nevins

A gym, a dance hall, a night club, a dinner theatre, a bowling alley and entertainment venue – the Baum Opera House has been all of that and more in its history as the feather in the Star City’s cap. In fact, when it was built 131 years ago, the Baum was the largest opera house of its kind between New York City and the Mississippi River.

“Ironically very little, if any, opera was ever performed here,” Executive Director Jamie Bridewell says. “An opera house was the epicenter of a city. That was its purpose.”

The first basketball game for Miamisburg High School was held here; commencements for the school were held here; town meetings were held here; and traveling shows performed here. It was even the spot for a presidential rally by candidate William Jennings Bryan. And in 1994, it almost was taken out of existence.

Elaborate beginnings

Charles Baum immigrated to Miamisburg from Germany in 1870. He first came to Germantown, but soon got a job working for Dr. John Treon, one of Miamisburg’s founding fathers. Baum ran Miami House, a hotel at the corner of Linden and Main Streets (the building now houses A Taste of Wine). In 1877, he built his own hotel called the Baum House Hotel, which is now the city annex building.

Baum was a savvy businessman and paid attention to the little details, like offering carriage “chauffeur” service from the train to his establishment. He also started purchasing parcels of land around his property. In 1884, he built what is now the Baum Opera House and created a walkway between the venue and his hotel. The new building was dubbed the “Star City Opera House.”

“He would bring them in, house and entertain his customers, all in his establishment,” Bridewell says.

Sadly, Baum himself only lived 10 more years after the Star City Opera House was completed. Historical records are unclear as to who the House passed to and how it was leased/owned, but Bridewell notes people have discovered it housed a saloon, gym, bowling alley, roller skating rink (you can still see the unique patterns on the hardwood floor), the Junior Order of United American Mechanics, the fire station (temporarily, while the station was being rebuilt), a dance hall, the Towpath Dinner Theatre and several bars.

The last bar was called “The Zoo,” and its owners had changed the upstairs into a black and white animal-style theme. They shut down in the fall of 1992 and simply vacated the building (when the restorers came in they found empty beer bottles and television stands). After two years of vacancy, the city Baum was ready for the wrecking ball.

Not so fast

Enter Jim and Mady Ransdell. Although both have since passed away, it was their passion and efforts that saved the opera house from oblivion.

“It was their enthusiasm that spearheaded the project [of restoration],” Bridewell says.

They partnered with Farmers & Merchants Bank, which donated the $34,000 needed to purchase the building. The bank is the oldest bank in Miamisburg, and used to be housed in the Baum House Hotel. After buying back the Baum, the Ransdells came in with a host of volunteers and several organizations to begin historical restoration.

“It has been a long, long effort,” Bridewell says. “There are so many stages, and we still have ongoing projects.”

After the pigeon poop was hauled out – by the shovel load – the original floors were revealed, the roof was retiled and repainted, ceilings were redone, copper downspouts replaced and many other maintenance items performed. Habitat for Humanity, the local plasterers’ union, the Miamisburg Spring Fling committee and the City of Dayton provided funding and manpower. Robert Templer, Miamisburg class of 1930, singlehandedly provided funds to restore the first floor (that space carries his name and a room with his personal and military memorabilia). And work is still being done – in 2013, the entry way was repainted and garage doors refinished.

Thanks to the Ransdells and their compadres, the Baum Opera House is being used by the community again. The Miamisburg Merchants, Rotary International, Miamisburg Lions, Dayton Songwriters, Playhouse South, Bella Musica and Dare to Defy all use the building. It’s a venue for wedding receptions, banquet parties, nonprofit meetings and the starting point for the Turkey Trot. Tours are available to any group by appointment or during open office hours.

Future projects

One of the projects still on the list is to un-encase the elaborate gas chandelier that used to hang above the grand staircase. Due to building codes, the staircase is now a much smaller enclosed stairwell with a landing. And the chandelier has been plastered over and around.

The Baum Opera House Association is also holding a “chair adoption program” to replace all their ballroom chairs. There is still more repainting and refinishing to be done as well. To help pay for these projects and bolster the general fund, the Association is holding a Spaghetti Benefit Dinner. Ron’s Pizza, a longtime supporter of the Opera House, has donated the dinner and the kitchen service to the fundraiser for many years.  The desserts are donated by citizens, members and friends of the Association. Miamisburg Middle School eighth graders, under the supervision of Jeanie Toadvine, will serve as the waitstaff.

The Baum Opera House Spaghetti Dinner will be held Friday, April 17 from 4:30-7 p.m. at the Baum Opera House, 15 First St. in Miamisburg. To volunteer your services or your time, offer auction items or dessert, or purchase a ticket, please call 937.859.8120 or email thebaumoperahouse@gmail.com. For more information about the Baum itself, visit thebaumoperahouse.com.

Reach DCP freelance writer Joyell Nevins at JoyellNevins@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Joyell Nevins
Joyell believes in the power of the written word, a good cup of coffee, and sometimes, the need for a hug (please, no Tommy Boy references). Follow her on her blog “Small World, Big God” at swbgblog.wordpress.com or reach her at joyellnevins@daytoncitypaper.com

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