As Coffeehouse Closes, Focus Is on Opera House - The Missourian: News

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As Coffeehouse Closes, Focus Is on Opera House

Building Not Closed, Owners Say

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Posted: Wednesday, August 1, 2012 6:32 pm | Updated: 6:57 pm, Sat Jun 22, 2013.

The Great Pacific Coffee Company, located on the ground floor of the McHugh-Dailey building, is closing its doors due to lack of business but the building is not closed, the owners say.

Now the owners are focused on renovating the third floor opera house to be opened as a banquet facility, according to Jim McHugh, family spokesman.

Originally opened in 1907 by brothers-in-law Lawrence McHugh and James Dailey, the McHugh-Dailey building housed retail on the ground floor, housing for the two families on the second floor and theatrical productions on the third floor.

Today the building is owned by two sets of brothers, grandsons of the founding partners. Jim and Bill “Doc” McHugh are grandsons of Lawrence McHugh. Tom and Michael Dailey are grandsons of James Dailey.

The cousins are involved in hands-on collaboration to restore the building and operate it as a business. Currently Dr. McHugh has a dental office on the first floor and there are rental offices and meeting rooms on the second floor.

It was a business decision to close the coffee company, Jim McHugh said.

“The Coffee Company had a clear growth rate over a number of years and was doing well until a serious downturn in business made it unsustainable,” he said

McHugh said the Opera House had always been the focal point of renovating the 100-year-old landmark, with most of the labor provided by family members.

When it opened in 1907, the huge clear-span 3,000-square-foot opera house, with its 14-foot ceilings, big windows and a stage with a 10-foot Decker Brothers concert grand piano, not only offered entertainment, it was the site of town board meetings, high school graduations and occasionally a roller-skating venue.

Piano legend Blind Boon came to the Opera House just to play the beautiful rosewood piano. Harry Truman took time from a 1934 U.S. Senate campaign railroad tour to play the piano. It has now been moved to Jim McHugh’s residence but may return to the opera house, McHugh said.

“There was an Orpheum vaudeville circuit that played here frequently.” McHugh said. “Most of the shows were musical theater, but there were opera singers who gave single performances here.”

A long wooden bench along the south wall, still in original condition, was where ladies once sat holding dance cards, waiting for some gent to ask them to dance on the polished white pine floor.

There are many old opera houses around the country, McHugh pointed out. Every community of any size had an opera house. Most have been converted to other purposes. Of those that remain, the McHugh-Dailey building is the only one known to be still owned and operated by the same family.

The building originally housed a mercantile business that sold clothing, household goods, hunting equipment and groceries. The second floor provided living quarters to the eight Dailey children and four McHugh children, who were sent to good schools but also worked at the family business on weekends.

The third floor opera house was the icing on the cake. Traveling theatrical productions entertained the locals while McHugh and Dailey youngsters sold tickets, ushered patrons to their seats, carried coal to the big cast iron stoves in winter and swept the floor when the patrons left.

It passed into decline as traveling shows disappeared and the fire marshal said it needed a second entrance. As the children moved away, the second floor living quarters were rented as rooms and the opera house sat empty, except for the years that artist Joe McHugh used the huge space as a studio.

In recent years a local ghost search team stayed overnight in the building trying to record activity of any ghosts. Jim McHugh is cautious about pointing the finger at any deceased McHugh or Dailey family member who might be hanging around the old structure. But former librarian Sue Reed ventured the notion that if there were any spirits with unfinished business it would likely be Lawrence “Larry” McHugh, the current owners’ uncle. Larry was an actor who made a name for himself in theater after college then came home to stage a few plays.

“He was the dreamy type who could have left a few unfinished aspirations in the family building,” Reed said.

Ghosts or not, McHugh said the renovated banquet hall in the old theater and family skating rink should not disappoint any of the founders’ numerous descendants. The owners are spending all their free time scraping and staining wood, hammering and painting in the old Opera House.

Dr. McHugh, a restoration specialist, is in charge of design. Tom Dailey, retired carpenter, is doing much of the woodwork. Michael Dailey, a Kansas industrial building manager, is taking his vacation in Pacific to paint the high walls and sand the original pine floor.

The exact shade of gray/green on the walls is tied to the painted wood banner, above the stage that advertised the Pacific Bank and the Koppitz Smith flour mill, that is in its original condition and is to be retained in the renovated Opera House.

“That’s our guide,” Bill McHugh said. “Everything has to tie to that exact shade of green.”

The tin ceiling has been scraped, brushed, painted and caulked returning it to its World’s Fair crispness.

“We’re lucky that we have these skills to do much of the labor ourselves,” Jim McHugh said.

McHugh, who founded the Pacific Partnership as a spur to downtown revitalization, said the family and the community must now focus on finding innovative uses for the third floor opera house and second floor meeting rooms.

“The first floor will eventually be reopened,” McHugh said. “But whatever use we find for it, first floor activities will have to live with and support the third floor uses.”

“Those holding banquets or wedding receptions can bring their own caterers,” McHugh said. “We have a room near the elevator, away from the banquet area, where caterers could set up their fare.”

Mayor Herb Adams said he hopes the family has not given up on the coffeehouse concept for the first floor.

“It was a wonderful place when it first opened,” Adams said. “It gave us all a place to go. I hope the family reconsiders the closing and finds a way to reopen it as a business.”

Residents have petitioned the family to re-open the coffeehouse, but McHugh said it is too soon to decide.

“It was time to focus on a new business format with the opera house as the anchor,” McHugh said. “It was always the center of our plan and we’re going to remodel the opera house as the anchor for the new business format. We should reopen sometime in November this year.”

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