Friday, September 11, 2015


This column first appeared in the September 2015 issue of GreeneSPEAK!

The original theatre entrance is on the right in this early 1900s view.  Above, a banner advertises “Paint the Town". The middle storefront is Munnell & Hunnell Hardware and Hills Book Store is on the left. The building next door advertises Silveus Restaurant’s “Opera House CafĂ©”. (Photo by Adamson, courtesy of Waynesburg Borough and

The Opera House has been an important building in Downtown Waynesburg for nearly 150 years. For half of that time, the Fashion Shop has occupied the western storefront, keeping the town’s female residents fashionably attired. This fall, Sally Scott Cameron and Chris Scott Kiger, whose great-aunt Fannie Rinehart Whitlatch started the Fashion Shop in 1940, celebrate a 75th Anniversary. This column honors their business success and commitment to the building and community.      

Erected in 1870-1871, the Opera House was first known as the “Odd Fellows and Masonic Building,” named for the organizations that built and owned it for 119 years, until 1989.    

Originally there were three street-level retail spaces occupied by a stationary store, hardware store and restaurant. Meeting rooms for the Odd Fellows and Masons were on the top floor. 

On the second was “Town Hall,” an auditorium that hosted live musical, drama and comedy acts. Eighteen years later, in 1889, it was converted to a 524-seat “Opera House,” where both travelling vaudeville troupes and local community events were held. Today, the building continues to be known as the “Opera House,” long after the demise of vaudeville.

Playbills adorn the original entrance to the Waynesburg Opera House.  (Ten Mile Country blog)

The Odd Fellows Building was one of three major construction projects in downtown Waynesburg in 1870 as the nation recovered from the Civil War. The others were the Downey House, destroyed in the famous fire of 1925, and the Hook-Morgan Building at High and Morgan Streets, recently rehabilitated by the author. All three featured, for the first time in Waynesburg, commercial spaces with large display windows.

They were designed in the popular Italianate style with extremely tall, arched windows, stone eyebrow lintels, flat gable roof and wide overhanging eaves. The Odd Fellows Building had the tallest windows of all.

In this lively downtown scene, ca. 1927-1930, the Opera House has a new marquee. The building next door, later the Colonial, has its original appearance of 1853. (Postcard from the collection of Mary Beth Pastorius)
Until 1900, the rear of the lot was occupied by a livery stable that was replaced by a major theatre addition. The architects were J. B. McElfatrick & Son, nationally acclaimed opera house designers from New York City who had recently created several theatres in Pittsburgh. Seating was expanded to 1,100 on the main floor, two balconies and side boxes.  

In 1939, the building was again remodeled, creating a modern, fireproof movie theatre. At this time, the entrance was moved to the center of the structure, replacing the middle storefront with an elegant lobby paved in Italian marble. Above it hung a central marquee with neon signage.   Inside, the uppermost balcony was removed. In this configuration it continued as a single-screen theatre until 1986, last operated by Paul Puglia.

The Fashion Shop has been a steadfast presence since 1940.  Here it is shown in 1951. (Photo by the Observer Publishing Company, archived at Cornerstone Genealogical Society)

In 1989, the Chris Kiger took ownership of the building, soon joined by Sally and Don Cameron in renovating and updating it. They showed first-run movies and hosted events until 2011 when changes in the movie industry forced closure. At the same time, the sisters continued to grow the Fashion Shop business, expanding the customer base and adding Brighton Jewelry and Vera Bradley bags to the upscale product mix.