Dengler Domain: Opera House

If I were smart enough to make my own time traveling machine, the first place I would want to visit in Traer would be the opera house. To the those in the Traer Nostalgia Facebook group sharing photos of it, thank you. Thank you for all the other wonderful posts in this group. This opera house looks like one of the most interesting places to have existed in Traer.

Traveling across the state there are a few theaters and opera houses which still dot rural Iowa. Their ambiance and their beauty are still as impressive today as when they were first established. While some may be dated, they were all worth the trip. To see these opera houses now and to think what the Traer Opera House could be today will always resonate.

Thinking about all the traveling performances to come through the opera house putting on show after show across the Midwest and having Traer be a part of their tour is impressive. The size of the opera house based on the photos makes it look like it was a sizable venue. It looks like the opera houses which continue to dot the prairie. Hearing anything about the opera house in its heyday would be fascinating though those who experienced it are unfortunately mostly long gone.

The side balconies of this opera house put it on par to be a fancy venue. It represents classiness, and it is impressive to imagine what it could have been. Thinking about a spectator using their fancy binoculars to look down on the performances on the deep stage and the beauty of the features of the opera house. While today’s world pushes people’s money into spending on televisions and streaming packages, the beauty of this venue represents where people put their entertainment money.

While it is hard to maintain old theaters and opera houses, it is tough to reconcile with the fact that they are gone. Like the ZCBJ Hall or other community buildings in rural Iowa, it is never about the physical structure of the building. It is easy to tear the bricks, wood, and other building parts down, but tearing down an institution or community gathering place like an opera house is never easy. It was not easy tearing down the Gladbrook school. It is not easy looking at the decay of the Clutier school. It is not easy planting over an acreage which once housed a family and animals. At the time, it might not seem like much but in the future, none of this will appear to have existed and the history and pride of the community whether the schools, community buildings, or farm is gone.

It is great Traer is taking great pride in its 150th celebration this year. The town deserves to be celebrated for its ability to thrive all these years. While putting on this celebration is not easy, it is an important community event. Bringing pride to a town and giving new life to the community buildings and parts of the community which need to be celebrated. Hopefully, highlighting the parts of the town which can be saved before it needs to be torn down because it is old.

Whether it be government and/or local support, it is important to support these community buildings because otherwise, a history buff like me, will lament and wish for what was. Time brings changes, but sustaining what is in the community to build upon it will lead to a community’s long term success. Whether it is a theater, opera house, community hall, or school, these buildings are more than just structures. They are community builders.

Sean Dengler is a writer, comedian, farmer, and host of the Pandaring Talk podcast who grew up on a farm between Traer and Dysart. You can reach him at sean.h.dengler@gmail.com.