Opera House Project is underway with funds obtained through
successful grant applications to the Preservation League of New
York State, Restore NY Round 1, Environmental Protection Fund -
NYS Historic Preservation Office, support from Senator Cathy
Young and donations from local citizens. The Cuba Friends of
Architecture's project began with, "About a year ago (late 2005), several people
who were interested in preserving Cuba’s historic district met to
look over the buildings in the Main Street district
and discuss what could be done to improve the looks of our
downtown. They were resolved to dismiss the Keller (Palmer) Opera House
because they could find no way, under the circumstances at that
time, to preserve it. But looking around, they saw other
possibilities and from that meeting the Cuba Friends of
Architecture (CFA) was born. The CFAs’ main objective was and is
to help building owners restore the facades of their stores and to
preserve our historic structures. Then a bombshell. Arts West
Gallery offered to give the Keller (Palmer) Opera House to the CFA. After
meetings with William Dibble, Senator Cathy Young, Bill Heaney
from Governor Pataki’s Regional Office, Lynn LeFeber, NY Grant
Administrator and other State Historic Office of Preservation
dignitaries, the deed was done and the deed was signed. Support
from legislators and historic preservation administrators was
over-whelming. With trepidation but determination, the CFA took
over the preservation of the Palmer House (Keller Opera House)."
- An excerpt taken from the January 2006 CFA newsletter.
The Palmer Block (including the Palmer Opera House - Keller
Opera House) is an 1867 structure located in the center of the
Village of Cuba, New York's Main Street Historic District. The
Palmer Opera House is a three-story, three bay wide brick
Italianate commercial building that possesses a high level of
architectural integrity located within the Palmer Block. The
Palmer Block may be referred to as the Keller Opera House.
The slight confusion stems from the fact that the property was
originally built by a Mr. Palmer but later lost to Mr. Keller in a
poker game. The Palmer Opera House formerly housed three
commercial store bays on the street level and a community opera
house on the second floor. For over 70 years, there was a wide variety
of cultural and recreational experiences to be enjoyed within its
walls including operas, musical productions, minstrel shows,
theater, and vaudeville shows. The Cuba High School held
graduation exercises, basketball games and junior and senior class
plays were held there until the late 1930s. The Palmer Block was
severely damaged beginning in the winter of 2001. Interior
decline and damage continued as a result of many hundreds of days
exposure to the elements, harsh weather, and neglect.
The original “Palmer House” was destroyed by fire on December
20, 1871. “The Fireman worked like heroes, and by their almost
superhuman effort, assisted by a large portion of our citizens,
succeeded in saving the rest of the block”, reported The Cuba True
Patriot, Dec. 22, 1871. On Jan. 5, 1872, Joseph Palmer, the owner
of the Palmer House stated that he “planned to create one of the
largest and best Opera Houses and Halls in Western New York for
the efforts made by the firemen and citizens”. “Mr. Palmer
fulfilled the promise made to the Department and the largest party
ever held in the town and the hall was filled as the magnitude of
the town would admit”, The Cuba True Patriot, Feb. 6, 1874. The
work being done today by the Cuba Friends of Architecture is the
second restoration of the Palmer (Keller) House. Once again, the
citizens of Cuba will make it one of the largest and best Opera
Houses and Halls in Western New York. In accordance with the
goals, objectives and actions of SHPO, the CFA has created
partnerships, expanded historic and architectural resources, and
promoted heritage tourism in the region in its effort to
rehabilitate the Palmer (Keller) Opera House.
The Palmer Opera House presents special
architectural interest in the storefront design that includes
cast-iron pilasters with three recessed entries. The interior
commercial space is divided into three units each retaining wooden
ceilings and floors. The Palmer Opera House was located on the
second floor and the ceiling extended to the roof level with no
The pilasters, which separate each display
window, have capitals featuring a classical acanthus leaf motif.
The cornice above the storefronts has an astragal motif as its
base. Above it capital is a modillion supporting blocks with
The cast-iron was manufactured by the "McEwen
Brothers" of Wellsville, NY as indicated on the base of the
The CFA saved the building from destruction
by restoring the collapsed section roof in December 2005.
The Palmer House was open to the elements for close to four years
due to the collapsed roof. Much damage has been done to the
interior. The building needs to be completely renovated.
Sections of the main floor have collapsed. Walls, ceilings
and upper flooring needs to be restored, and new electric wiring
and heating system have to be installed.
There was an exciting find when damaged
wallboard was removed from the opera house on the second floor.
Written on the original plaster wall was "Rial and Draper's Uncle
Tom's Cabin". The date was September 24-25, 1879, 12 years after
the construction of the Palmer Block.
Plans for the rehabilitated Palmer Opera
House include a banquet area and gallery and cafe in two of the
first floor retail spaces. The preservation and new use of
this 139-year-old building a three-fold benefit-- economic
development, cultural enrichment, and community service.
The Palmer Block and its Opera House has
helped define Cuba, New York for almost 140 years and has offered
our rural community exposure to the arts, a community stage,
improved quality of life, economic health, and educational
benefits for our citizens and through this rehabilitation will
serve for many years to come.