A Monthly Column on Historic Structures of New York's Southern Tier
Fixing a hole where the rain gets in...
Major repair work begins on Binghamton's historic Stone Opera House

The Balcony.

Removal of the roof as viewed from above.

A gentle rain was falling as I entered the back door of the Stone Opera House. Once inside it seemed unusually bright, but stranger yet, it was raining inside as well! Overhead gray sky could be seen through a matrix of wooden rafters and steel beams. A large part of the roof was gone!

Sure, the roof has been in bad shape for years, in fact not long ago the City took the building's owner to court in an attempt to force needed repair. But how could it have deteriorated this much over just the last few days? Maybe it was the wind, or worse … demolition. Like the Ross Building last year, is yet another piece of Binghamton history about to be, well… history?

None of the above… in fact, the deteriorating and long neglected roof is being repaired, and we're not talking tarps and temporary patches. Contractor Gary Rittenburg was hired by the building's owner to do the job. "The owner told me: 'do it like it was your own building'," said Rittenburg.

The city requires the building to be "weather tight." Rittenburg feels that the holes in the roof could be patched to meet that requirement, but it's only a matter of time before other areas would fail. So the decision was made to replace the entire roof. "I've worked with the owner for some time. He trusts me to do the job right," said Rittenburg.

Binghamton Vacant Properties Officer Keith Heron checks for daily progress on the project. "The City is delighted over the progress that's being made," said Heron. He commented that the City, the Department of Code Enforcement and the owner are all working together to make this project a success. In addition, the Commission on Architecture and Urban Design (CAUD) and the Preservation Association of the Southern Tier (PAST) are kept informed and consulted on design and preservation issues related to the project.

For instance, the contractor is proposing a new metal roof - lighter, more durable and more cost effective than duplicating the original. Because it would deviate from the original design, the proposal went before CAUD for approval. Binghamton's Historic Preservation Planner H. Peter L'Orange commented that approval was granted with conditions: the new roof must be of neutral color, drainage systems must ensure no water damage to the building or surrounding buildings, and the metal roof is to be replaced with a more appropriate roof "at a future, undetermined date in conjunction with long-term plans to rehab the building as a whole."

Built in 1892, the Stone Opera House was converted to
the Riviera Theater in 1930, and finally closed in 1973.
"While a metal roof is not our first choice, both the Commission on Architecture and Urban Design and myself feel that at this point it is both a necessary and appropriate approach to help stabilize the building," said L'Orange.

A thorough engineering study of the building has yet to be performed, but commenting on its structural condition, Rittenburg said he checked the integrity and safety of the structure before allowing his crew to start the job. "The building is in very good condition," he said, adding that he and his crew enjoy doing jobs like this. Rittenburg clearly appreciates the historical importance of the building and hopes it will be put to good use in the future.

Last January the Stone Opera House was featured in this column. The rich history of this Binghamton treasure was described, along with scenarios for adaptive reuse. But the current condition was also presented and accompanied by revealing photographs. The article referred to "demolition by neglect" and concluded: "Clearly, if basic emergency maintenance is not done immediately this historic building will soon be history."

Thanks to the diligence of our City, the responsiveness of the building's owner, and the expertise of his construction contractor, emergency maintenance is not only being done, but the repair appears to exceed basic stabilization requirements. As Rittenburg said, "when we're done, this building will be secure and ready to be put to new use, whatever that might be."

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Compare to the Earlville Opera House