Xenia’s first city hall

The City of Xenia has just broken ground for a new city building. This will be the third expressly designed for administration in the city.

In was 1867 when the city fathers proposed constructing a building which would house the police and fire departments along with the Mayor’s office and other city administration needs.

The Xenia Torchlight of Feb. 27, 1867 mentioned the need for a public hall. Taking all the needs of the city into consideration, the Xenia City Commission, on March 27, made a formal proposal to build a hall on Greene Street. A $20,000 bond at 7.3 percent for five to twenty years was proposed. The Oho House of Representatives gave permission for the financing.

The Torchlight reported on April 10, 1867 that the citizens of the city had voted in favor of the proposal.

The city was moving right along with the idea of a city hall, so a committee was selected to find a suitable location. On the recommendation of that committee, the city council agreed to purchase a lot from G.W. Wright at the Northeast corner of Detroit and Market Streets. This is the location of the present city building. The selling price was $90 per front foot.

Anxious to make progress, an architect was hired quickly and the new building was under construction by fall. Citizens wanted the building to be as useful as possible. In order to accomplish that task, the second floor was planned to be used as an opera house, while the lower street level would accommodate all the city officials and their departments.

The building was completed by February 1868.

For the next twelve years, the structure was more than adequate, but as time when by, citizens asked for more space, so renovations began. A new entrance was placed on the East Market side of the building and the second floor ceiling was lowered. This allowed for the addition of a third floor. The exterior balcony, which had been a part of the old building, was kept intact.

The gala opening night for the new opera house was held on Feb. 16, 1881. A new gas-fueled chandelier complete with reflector had been installed along with a mural of William Shakespeare. Mr. Reid regaled the audience with his speech, and several musical numbers were presented. Admission was 50 cents per person, with the proceeds of the evening being donated to the poor of the city.

The opera house continued to be an integral part of life in Xenia. Graduation ceremonies, local theater production and traveling vaudeville shows were presented.

Of great benefit was the “Opera House Orchestra” which was formed in 1884 to be available as needed for various performers.

Local organizations utilized the facility including the K of P Lodge shows, Spanish Students Musicals, Xenia Baptist Choir, A.M. E. Church concerts, Republican and Democratic Party rallies along with local dramatic readings and piano recitals.

The stage production of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was so popular that the cast was invited back again and again. Other traveling troupes brought “Rip Van Winkle” and Shakespeare’s “Othello”. The well-known W. C. Handy (known as “father of the blues”) performed at least one time with his band. No doubt he played the popular “St. Louis Blues” which he wrote.

Lecturers were popular, including poet James Whitcomb Riley. Another popular lecturer was Hallie Q. Brown of Wilberforce. She had spoken all over the world, including an audience with Queen Victoria. John L. Sullivan, the world’s champion heavyweight boxer must have created quite a stir with his appearance.

Lectures and performers who had been on the Xenia stage more than once were familiar with the fact that the train came down Detroit Street, just feet away from the city building/opera house. Those who knew about this heard the train in the distance, then as it approached, simply stood mute on the stage until the train had rumbled by, then continued with the performance.

The YMCA season of 1910-11 was under the direction of the Star Course Committee. Governor E. W. Hoch, lecturer, Music Makers Concert, Strickland W. Gillilan, humorist, crayon artist Evelyn Gargelt and Dr. Edward Amherst Ott, lecturer and the Kellogg-Haines

As the years went by, more and more local groups staged productions. Eventually, motion pictures made their way into the opera house with travel films being very popular. The Katzenjammer Kids were also popular on the screen.

Of course, even if there was a performance in the Opera House, the police and fire departments were available on the street level to be sure the city was running smoothly. This arrangement went on for quite a number of years until the second and third floors of the building were declared a fire hazard in May 1936. The entrances were boarded, but the first level of the building remained in use. The building was razed in 1938. Jan. 1, 1939 was the date the cornerstone was placed in what became the current city building.

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