The Monticello Opera House (MOH), formerly known as the "Perkins Block," was built in 1890 by an enterprising Monticello businessman named John H. Perkins. This handsome building included three first floor bays housing Perkins mercantile interests - a general store and sewing machine shop, a hardware store and a farm implement supply store. In addition, Perkins built a stable behind the building from which horses, mules and wagons were sold. The second floor of the Perkins Block included a large foyer and an opera house boasting unparalleled acoustics and the largest stage in the region.
The theater was considered elaborate when built. The stage and orchestra pit over-sized. Original "cheaters" still hang from wooden racks above the stage. Two elaborately decorated Moorish influence box seats with decorative sheet metal and painted decoration remain, as do remnants of the original gas footlights.
Gilt tin medallions surround the stage facade as well as the front of the balcony. Original large elaborate ceiling fixtures of tine and mirrors have been converted to electric, rehung and are in daily service. The theater is considered to have almost perfect acoustics, a delight for performing artists who often prefer to perform without amplification.
In the early 1900’s, the rail lines that brought tourists to Monticello shifted, and visitation to the area and the theatre plummeted. Unable to attract the once-popular traveling productions, Perkins discontinued live performances. A failed attempt to utilize the building as a movie theater led to the abandonment of the auditorium. Although the downstairs bays saw continuous occupation for a variety of uses, the majestic opera house, with its sweeping stage and near-perfect acoustics, stood idle and soon fell into disrepair.
Had it not been for a small group of dedicated citizens in the 1970's the building would have been demolished. On March 10, 1972 the Monticello Opera House was incorporated, and later gained nonprofit status, in order to preserve an important piece of Florida heritage.
The Monticello Opera Company was also formed in March of that year, and performed at the first fund-raising event in the home of Mr. and Mrs. John H. Phipps.
The purchase of the building and property was consummated on October 17, 1973 by Monticello Opera House, Inc, which raised the funds through donations and a grant from the State of Florida, as well as a generous gift from Mrs. Dorothy Simpson, who held one-half interest in the building.
Maintenance and restoration of this unique facility continues to this day. In a joint effort with the Florida Department of State, Division of Historic Resources, a restoration project was completed in the area of the original stairway leading to the auditorium balcony. The construction brought the facility into compliance with fire code regulations to allow the lawful use of seating in the balcony. The project was completed with a sensitivity to the original architectural features and makes use of original molding and wainscoting wherever possible. Although the original seating in the balcony remained intact, the seats on the main level of the theater had to be replaced. The current seating was donated by Tallahassee Community College President during the school’s renovation of its theater. Installation of the “new” seats was accomplished entirely with volunteer labor from members of the community.
Although the downstairs had been remodeled to accommodate those with disabilities, it was not until May 2004, that the theater became accessible. In 1999 $25,000 was donated in the memory of Dr. Gerald M. Cathey to institute fund raising efforts for installation of an elevator. An additional $25,000 was raised over the course of the next two years through donations from benefactors and production proceeds from the Opera House Stage Company. A $50,000 matching grant from the Department of State, Division of Historical Resources resulted in the hiring of Riley Palmer Construction to complete this long-desired renovation.
Located adjacent to the historic Jefferson County Courthouse, MOH is part of Monticello’s thriving downtown commerce area. It’s also a cornerstone building of the Monticello Historic District, the 3rd to be established in the state after the St. Augustine and Pensacola districts.
As we continue to serve the town and its surrounding areas, we believe the Monticello Opera House is truly fulfilling the original dream of John Perkins. Once again, the theater echos with music, laughter and the sound of applause as young and old alike enjoy a wide range of performances. We encourage you to become part of its history by becoming a member today.