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Opera House gets new life in Bountiful
Building will house condos and businesses

BOUNTIFUL -- Once upon a time, one could have shopped for furniture up front, paid respects to the departed out back and then gone dancing upstairs at the People's Opera House and Mercantile Company of Bountiful.

Now, having served as general store, theater, dance hall, mortuary, roller rink, basketball court and furniture store over the past 108 years, the much remodeled original building and six additions at 70 N. Main are getting yet another mixed-use lease on life.After sitting empty for six years, the former site of Lakewood Furniture is being turned into shops, offices and condominiums by a local development partnership.

Developer Brian Knowlton, a partner in Opera House L.C., said it will be a unique project, and he's right. Many of the condos' future owners will find themselves treading on the same maple floors on which silk-buttoned and spats-covered shoes danced in the 20th century, under a roof that once echoed with the drama of suggestively titled plays like "Michael Erle or the Maniac Lover" and "Ten Nights in a Barroom." There were also productions of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" and "Uncle Tom's Cabin."

In regard to the latter production, a story survives about a theatrical company that was in such financial straits it had to leave Little Eva's donkey and a pony behind at the Opera House until money could be raised to send for them.

Old-time Bountiful residents who may have found the name Opera House a bit too highfalutin' for their taste dubbed the place "The People's Old Horse and Mule Company."

The Opera House, built in 1891 at a cost of $13,000 by John Fisher, Charles H. Rampton, Willard and Chester Call and others, was for many years the largest business establishment in Bountiful. Today, it's the only building left in the city suitable for a conversion mixing commercial and residential use, Knowlton said. However, the concept of people living over the store is not new here.

"This is the way the West was settled, the way people lived before they had cars," Knowlton said.

The $2 1/2 million conversion project, due to be completed later this year, will put 12,800 square feet of office and commercial space on the ground floor and 14 condos on 14,810 feet on the second floor. The one- to three-bedroom condos will sell for $81,000 to $130,000, Knowlton said.

"We thought it was a shame that this building sat vacant for so long. We thought for eight months on how it could be reused," Knowlton said.

A veteran of several historic conversion projects in Salt Lake City and elsewhere, Knowlton said he liked the Opera House's architectural features: exposed masonry, brickwork, high ceilings and maple floors on the second story.

There was also a practical reason for retrofitting rather than tearing down. Under the city's building code, a new structure on the site would have had to be substantially smaller, Knowlton said.

Club Mud, a California-based do-it-yourself ceramics and arts and crafts shop, has already signed for one of the retail spaces. There are eight people on a waiting list for the condos, Knowlton said. The living units, many of which will have a lot of exposed brick, should appeal to young professionals and retired people who will enjoy living close to restaurants, shops and bus lines in downtown Bountiful, he said.

Before the purchase of the building from the Holbrook family could be completed in October, it took about a year to get an engineering study done and have the city of Bountiful adopt a Uniform Code of Building Conservation. But it was worth the wait, Knowlton said.

"The challenge and the fun in this is that everything is unique. It's going to be a neat thing."