Laura Manatt, third from left, general manager of the Brooklyn Opera House, is joined by her husband, Brian, second from left, along with state, county and local dignitaries at a ribbon cutting and grand opening on the opera house stage on Friday, Oct. 22. After years of neglect, termite and water damage, the opera house is once again a community centerpiece in the City of Brooklyn. Iowa Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg is left of Brian and Iowa Economic Director Deb Durham is right of Laura.
By J.O. Parker
On Friday afternoon, Oct. 22, Brian and Laura Manatt welcomed state, county and city dignitaries, community supporters, building contractors and others to join them on stage at the Brooklyn Opera House for a grand opening and ribbon cutting ceremony at the newly renovated building.
It was the Manatts who spearheaded a drive to save the once dilapidated opera house, turning it into a shining star that has drawn praise from locals to state leaders.
“This opera house is truly a Cinderella story,” said Deb Durham, Iowa Economic Director, who was in attendance at the open house. “If you think of its rich history and the years of neglect, it did not age well. Because of leaders like Brian and Laura uniting the community around their vision of what the building could be, they began reaching out to various funding partners and the state was pleased to play a role in this beautiful restoration.”
The Manatts announced at a public gathering in early March of 2019 that they had been working with Des Moines-based Neumann Brothers since 2014 on a plan to renovate the opera house into a 250-seat multi-purpose facility.
The first musical event in the building was in October 2020 when Johnny Cash tribute artist Cliff Wright performed. Since then, the opera house has held movies, national and state musical performances such as George Ducas, the Nadas, Tyler Rich, local plays, a theatre youth camp, weddings and various meetings and events in connection with the Michael J. Manatt Community Center.
And on Saturday, Oct. 23 Iowan Maddie Poppe, American Idol winner, performed to a sold out crowd. Deep River’s own Tyler Richton and High Bank Boys opened the show.
“The community has rallied around it,” said Laura, who serves as general manager of the opera house. “Not only have they volunteered, they have donated and bought tickets to events. Every piece helps.”
Historic Preservations Jennifer James, who did the historical research on the opera house renovation, said one of the things that is most striking is how the Brooklyn community came together to make this project happen.
“From the beginning, the community got behind the building,” she said. “Neumann Brothers (and architect Matt Keller) made sure that the building was protected and better than it was.”
The project renovation cost $4 million, which was funded with community support and state and national grants.
“I’m proud of the Brooklyn Community and Poweshiek County for coming together and bringing this amazing building back to life,” said Dawn Driscoll, District 38 State Senator, who was in attendance.
“To see a group of Iowans come together to make a project like this happen is amazing,” said Iowa Lt. Governor Adam Gregg, who was in attendance. “Thank you for this investment.”
Since its opening, downtown Brooklyn has welcomed a new pharmacy, flower shop, hair studio, coffee house and a new owner at the local hardware store.
“The Opera house today has improved the community in so many ways, by helping keep business local by providing entertainment such as movies, activities and a place to hold events so people are staying in town and not going elsewhere,” noted Brooklyn Mayor Carl Tubbs.
“The opera house is a focal point of our downtown,” added Rusty Clayton, Brooklyn Ruritan and former owner of the local hardware store. “They (the Manatts) are working hard to bring culture to the rural area through plays, concerts and movies. It also provides a great event center for weddings, meetings and parties. Small town living with big city culture.”
“It’s nice to see it finally happen to such a beautiful old building on our Main Street,” added Tubbs.
“Anything is possible in rural Iowa,” said Lt. Gov. Gregg. “What a perfect example for other small towns that face similar challenges.”