Palmer Opera House Project

The Palmer 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 third floor. 

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 lions' heads. 

The cast-iron was manufactured by the "McEwen Brothers" of Wellsville, NY as indicated on the base of the pilasters. 

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.   




Cuba Friends of Architecture

P.O. Box 274

Cuba, New York 14727