Restoring "The Grand Lady"

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Shawn Franke of San Antonio, Texas, has made five trips to Meridian to examine the over 100-year-old Grand Opera House and says it is structurally sound.

"It will take some augmentation to bring it up to current codes but nothing that's out of the ordinary," said Franke. "There's always a little bit of minor rotting. I actually have not seen any other termite infestation or anything like that so far. It's a great structure."

Franke said the poles, which hold up the balcony will stay because they are part of the original structure but the stage will change.

"That's one area that will probably be totally rebuilt because the current fly-lofts and rigging requirements will probably require a new steel structure up above," Franke said.

He discovered a trap door in the stage, possibly used for magic or disappearing acts. Keeping it is under consideration. As he examined the building he got a strong sense of history.

"I've been crawling around in this building each time and it's fun," said Franke. "You get to see things that nobody else gets to see. Working on old buildings is exciting because you see all different types of structures. They were able to be creative and they were pioneers all the time."

The physical restoration of the Opera House will begin in late 2003 and be completed in 2004.