While there are stars on stage, it is the community members that really shine when you look at the Huber Opera House & Civic Center
The Huber, located at 157 E. High St. in Hicksville, is a village centerpiece and landmark that is a point of pride and labor of love for the community. For more two decades, supporters have been working to ensure its success after the building fell into neglect and disrepair.
“I believe anyone who comes to the Huber, who has never been here, are in awe of what has been occurring in the renovation and restoration process,” said Chris Feichter, director of operations of the Huber. “Things have been going on 20 years (now), and we have people from Hicksville and the surrounding area still discovering the Huber every year.”
The Huber building itself has been a landmark in the village for more than 100 years. It began as the Mackey Exchange Hotel in July 1883. In 1884, George and Francisca Huber purchased the property adding a balcony to the front. In 1894, the auditorium was added and it started to be used as a “tryout” theater for acts that would then go to New York and Chicago. In the 1930s, the Huber became a movie theater. It later became a night club and fell into disrepair.
“When it was Tremors (the nightclub), the roof fell in,” said Hicksville Mayor Ron Jones. The village had discussed turning the building into a parking lot at that point. “Then a few people came forward and said ‘hey this is a landmark.’ Now look at it today.”
A formal organization was formed in September 1998 to save the Huber building. The group was spearheaded by a volunteer board, which urged the community to turn the Huber with its “rich history” into a center for community activity and become an enduring legacy in the downtown area. “They (the organization) had the forethought to make it a true community center,” said Feichter. “It’s (now) used for more than shows and concerts. It’s used for family gatherings, weddings and baby showers. The health department uses it on a monthly basis as a health clinic. It’s a true community center, which goes beyond the scope of a theater.”
Jones said the village uses the facility for its Party on the Patio concerts, which will be happening in June-August. They draw a few hundred people to the downtown and are growing. This year marks a return of the concerts after they were canceled the last two years due to the COVID pandemic. Jones said the Huber is a true gem of the community.
It took a lot of hard work to make it shine, however. On Dec. 7, 1999, the Huber building was purchased and rehabilitation work began. The majority of the work was completed by a dedicated group of volunteers. Those volunteers were even honored as Citizens of the Year in 2013 for their untiring efforts to restore the historic opera house. “They put in hundreds and thousands of hours in free labor,” Feichter said. “It allowed materials to be purchased, many at a discount. They (the volunteers) only brought in contractors when they needed that technical (aspect).”
In addition to the hard work of volunteers, the community stepped forward in other ways as well. To help with renovations, members of the community purchased bricks to adorn the front walk, chairs inside the theater area and more. Several families also made donations – such as the Ridenour Foundation, which helped fund the restoration of the historic canvas drop for the stage. Community organizations including the Defiance Area Foundation and various clubs also donated funds to help with restoration and renovation efforts. The Ohio Arts Council has given grants to help with programming. Feichter said the community continues to support the Huber.
‘We have a plethora of annual supporters,” she said. “They are our patrons of the arts and include many local businesses and organizations. Those donations support our operating expenses (such as utilities). They have been very generous for many years.” There are other donors as well. “We started – five years ago – a star supporter program,” Feichter said, adding donors agreed to give $3,000 a year for five years. “All of that (money) went to the mortgage… We cut the mortgage down to half. We are continuing our star supporter program, but they don’t have to promise a five-year (commitment) just an annual donation. We anticipate the mortgage to be paid off in the next three to five years. At that point we will do other major improvements.”
Other major improvements planned include a new roof, sealing the interior stage walls (which are the original brick), replacing windows and the backstage door, waterproofing the basement and having a marquee installed.
There have been other donations, which have helped the Huber in different ways. Instead of funds, some estates have donated clothing and other items to be used in productions.
“We have an extensive costume room,” Feichter said. “We get asked from a lot of other theaters to rent them out and we loan costumes out for Halloween too. We’re starting to be known for our costume collection. We have everything from vintage 1920s to present.” Others support the Huber by coming to shows or attending fundraisers such as the wine tasting event set for Nov. 4. The Huber has its own local theater troupe, the Opera Lane Performers, which put on performances. The local high school also puts on productions at the facility. Huber historian Alice Hook said individuals have come from all over the Midwest and beyond to see shows at the
Huber. “There have been people from Michigan, Indiana and even Chicago,” she said, adding visitors have come from as far as Maine and Maryland. She said many are grandparents who come to watch grandchildren in productions in the junior program. “In the past five to six years, we have really built up our junior program,” Feichter said. “We are building a new generation of Huber family and supporters of the community.” She said the young people that use the Huber respect it and want to keep it nice.
“The junior program has helped build the legacy and a respect for the building,” she said. “We have had youth (that were in productions) go on to do things in college, the civic theater (in Fort Wayne) and other places and come back and say they really want to do something here again.” The junior program has two levels – a day camp for those ages 6-10 and a program for older youths that last several weeks. This summer the younger children are putting on “Pan!” while the older youths will perform “Legally Blonde Jr.” “Grandparents house their grandkids so they can attend the program,” Feichter said, adding some kids come as far away as Tennessee. “The kids program has drawn people from all over. It shows there is pride in the program and the Huber.”
The youth programs also have spurred the junior chorus, which is directed by Earlee Harris and Lindsay Clem. The chorus is for youths 9-15 and teaches musical literacy and vocal training while allowing for performance experiences. Those experiences not only help grow talent and memories, but also an enduring legacy for the Huber. “There is a lot of pride (in the Huber),” Feichter said. “There are a lot of locals that come (here) to show it off.” Jones said he even has a picture of the Huber on the back of his business cards. “It’s a big asset to the community,” he said. “That’s one of the things if someone comes to the community we go down to see. I say ‘we
have this old theater and its history is amazing. It was a big thing in town 100 years ago and is a big thing again.’ “
Individuals can visit the Huber’s website, huberoperahouse.org, to learn more about the building, upcoming shows or how to get involved through volunteering, auditioning for shows, contributions and donations.