Winchester’s first mayor, James D. Simpson, broke ground on the historic Winchester Opera House in 1873 as a gift to residents.
More than 120 years later, the Ziembroskis regifted the Opera House to Clark County when they purchased the building and restored it to its original grandeur.
In the 1870s, Simpson had hoped the Opera House would allow Winchester and Clark Countians the opportunity to see the performing arts. The building also boasted four business storefronts on the south end of Main Street, and it housed the Opera House on the second and third floors with its entrance at 10 E. Lexington Avenue.
The Opera House was the largest commercial structure in the city. It hosted off-Broadway performances and musicals which were popular at the time.
At the peak of the Opera House’s popularity, Helen Keller visited as a speaker, Vanessa Ziembroski said.
Over time, though, the “buzz” of smaller city streets began to slow across the country, and the historic downtowns started to see a deterioration nationally as the sprawl of urban development began.
Winchester was no exception.
The Opera House fell into a state of industrialization becoming home to Loma’s Manufacturing, a sewing factory offering its goods to local department stores.
The lack of interest and funds eventually swept the building to the side, making it an eyesore on the corner of Lexington Avenue and Main Street.
In 2003, the building received its second chance to shine, as current owners Ed and Vanessa Ziembroski purchased the property and restored it.
Their new floor plan includes a gallery and art studio, a large ballroom with full catering and staffing to host an array of events from weddings to corporate dinners.
The Winchester Opera House is now a site to see once again. The process did come with its “aches and pains,” Vanessa Ziembroski said, but the result was well worth it.
The couple was even awarded recognition in historic preservation for downtown business enhancement, and it shows as one walks through the doors.
“That was one of the highlights,” Ziembroski said, thinking back about the Opera House’s journey.
Ziembroski credits her father for the start of her love of construction and design. She spent summers working with him on construction sites.
Once inside, sweeping hardwood staircases lead guests to a smaller reception area known as the Fireside Room which is perfect for cocktails or mix and mingles. Guests can also rent the 850-square-foot space separately as it is ideal for corporate meetings or intimate gatherings, she said. It can seat up to 120 for a ceremony.
A few short steps away is the 3,500-square-feet Grand Ballroom. Soaring windows, original wooden flooring and 16-foot-high ceilings make this space feel open and airy with enough space to seat more than 300 guests and still have a dance floor if one chooses.
A VIP area for vendors is in the balcony, which Ziembroski said she added during the construction.
Ziembroski said most of her business at the Opera House is weddings while the rest is other social or corporate events. The Opera House offers rentals for tables, chairs, flatware, crystal, décor accessories, catering and more.
Guests at the Opera House can also check out The Gallery, which is on the first floor. It has a contemporary urban feel, Ziembroski said, and can provide an alternative, modern backdrop for an intimate cocktail party, rehearsal dinner or any event up to 80 guests. It also boasts works of notable local artists, Ziembroski said. The artwork is for sale and guests can commission pieces upon request.
The Gallery also recently changed shows to a more contemporary display featuring Sue White, Jeffery Hale and Eddie Ziembroski, all Winchester artists.
Ziembroski said she is excited about the direction of the downtown business district.
New companies help to draw more foot traffic to the Main Street business district and aid in continuing the growth at the Opera House.
“I get the feeling that the businesses which are going into our business district over the past four years have become major contributors to the long-term success of our downtown,” she said.
When Ziembroski first started the Opera House, it was a one-woman show. She was the event coordinator, the owner, the caterer, the florist and more.
“I did just about everything,” she said. “ … It was to the point I was way overextended.”
Looking at the future, Ziembroski said her staff at the Opera House is looking at social media marketing and using that to increase and improve business.
Ziembroski said she is even growing her staff, adding a full-time marketing staff member to her team focused on cold-calling and gaining new businesses and clients.
The Opera House has won awards with many wedding publications and organizations such as from Martha Stewart Weddings, Wedding Wire Couples Choice Awards in 2014, 2016 and 2017 as well as The Knot Best of Weddings in 2013.
“I love being a small part of something that loved ones will cherish for the rest of their lives,” Ziembroski said.
Ziembroski said she would like to bring the positive experiences that earned those awards to many more clients.
“I think our next focus would be bringing Lexington businesses to our town,” Ziembroski said.
Ziembroski said she hopes more people invest in the downtown like she did when she first purchased the Opera House, though.
“Everything is great,” she said. “But let’s work together to make things even better.” §