Delphi Preservation Society Wins Prestigious Restoration Prize

The society’s transformation of its 1895 Opera House merits the Cook Cup for Outstanding Restoration.

INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana Landmarks, a private nonprofit organization that saves historic places, announced Delphi Preservation Society as the winner of its annual Cook Cup for Outstanding Restoration for its transformation of the 1865 Delphi Opera House. Indiana Landmarks will present the award at its annual Rescue Party on April 29 in Indianapolis.

“Delphi Preservation Society took on a basket case in 1996. This qualifies as a heroic restoration. We also admire how the society put the opera house to use in a way that benefits the entire community,” notes Carl Cook, Indiana Landmarks’ past board chairman and head of the Cook Cup selection committee.

When Delphi Preservation Society (DPS) bought the opera house on the courthouse square in 1996, the third-floor theater had been shuttered for more than 80 years, closed by the fire marshal. Roof leaks left the theater ceiling a soggy, collapsing state. Pigeons roosted on the shipping crates and discarded merchandise that filled the once-grand hall.

The nonprofit group used volunteer labor to restore the retail storefronts. Beginning in 2000, DPS reinforced the ceiling truss, restored the main façade, and recruited an artist to open a gallery in one of the retail bays.

Total restoration of the opera house was the centerpiece of Delphi’s $20 million Stellar Communities proposal in 2012. From that state program award, DPS received a $2.6 million matching grant that funded the remaining restoration of the historic structure, including the theater, and construction of a three-story addition across the back of the building to accommodate accessible restrooms, an elevator, fire stairs, a banquet room, catering kitchen, dressing and green rooms, and lobby.

“Delphi Preservation Society recognized the Stellar Communities grant as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to completely bring back a building that was central to the community and to Delphi’s revitalization strategy,” says Anita Werling, former DPS president and full-time volunteer who spearheaded the restoration. The restored theater opened late in 2015. DPS financed the $1.7 million match and is launching a capital campaign to retire the debt.

Barry Knechtel, AIA, of KJG Architecture, Inc. in West Lafayette was the lead designer of the restoration and the addition. Major contractors on the project include Shiel Sexton Co. Inc.; J. R. Kelly Co., F. A. Wilhelm Masonry & Steel, and Huston Electric.

“In the 1880s, the theater was renovated in high Victorian style, with many decorative wallpapers. Five of the original wallpapers were recreated by Aesthetic Interiors in Wabash. We selected commercially available papers reminiscent of the originals for the rest,” Werling notes.

“The selection committee was especially impressed by the attention to detail in this aspect of the restoration. It’s a place that’s worth seeing in person at a performance or on a tour,” says Marsh Davis, president of Indiana Landmarks.

The opera house attracts people from out of town, and restaurants and shops stay open to accommodate the audiences when it hosts reunions, weddings, proms, and corporate meetings, as well as performances and tours.

Sara Daly-Brosman, the lone paid staff person, handles rentals and books performances. Volunteers tackle most other tasks, from working in the box office, checking coats, cleaning, and selling concessions to fixing problems, and handling sound and lights for performances.

“The opera house creates a vibrancy that didn’t exist before, and more pride in the community,” says Delphi Mayor Shane Evans, who took office last year. “Young people who always said they would leave are moving back now or investing here,” Evans observes.

Indiana Landmarks inaugurated the Cook Cup for Outstanding Restoration in 2007, when the prize went to the award’s namesake family in honor of its transformation of the West Baden and French Lick Springs hotels in southern Indiana.

Carl Cook will present the Cook Cup at Rescue Party, an annual benefit for Indiana Landmarks’ Endangered Places programs, following a brief video by Road Pictures highlighting the restoration of the Delphi Opera House and its impact on the community. Tickets for the April 29 event are $85 per person ($150/person for reserved seating) and must be purchased in advance at or by calling 317-639-4534.

See photos of the Delphi Opera House transformation.


Media contacts: Tina Connor, Executive Vice President, 317-639-4534 / 800-450-4534, Jen Thomas, JTPR, Inc., 317-441-2487, Anita Werling, Delphi Preservation Society volunteer restoration project manager & Chair, Opera House Advisory Board,, 765-202-3211 Sara Daly-Brosman, Executive Director, Delphi Opera House,, 765-564-4300.

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Indiana Landmarks saves places that matter, revitalizing neighborhoods and communities. With nine offices located throughout the state, Indiana Landmarks helps people rescue endangered landmarks and restore historic neighborhoods and downtowns. People who join Indiana Landmarks receive its bimonthly magazine, Indiana Preservation. Learn more.


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