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Albion exhibit features photos of historic opera house

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 13 May 2015 at 12:00 am

Photo by Tom Rivers – Walter Jakubowski of Albion is pictured with some of the photographs he has featured in an exhibit about the Pratt Opera House and the restorative efforts from 2013 to 2015.

ALBION – One photo from 10 years ago shows former Congressman John LaFalce and former Albion Mayor Ed Salvatore in the Pratt Opera House. The floor is covered in pigeon droppings and pigeon carcasses.

More recent photos show the same stage in the Pratt Opera House cleaned, sanded and refinished.

Walter Jakubowski, an Albion photographer, has been taking photos in the Pratt since 2013. He documented some of the restorative efforts by Michael Bonafede and his wife Judith Koehler.

About 20 of those photos will be on display in an exhibit opening Saturday at Salih Studio at 24 East Bank St. There will be an opening reception from 2 to 5 p.m. The exhibit runs until June 20, and will be open from 2 to 6 p.m. on Thursdays through Saturdays.

One of Jakubowski’s photos shows a ticket from a performance at the Pratt Theatre.

The exhibit also includes old seating charts and some historic photos of the Pratt, where construction on the third floor building started in 1890.

The opera house seated 400 and hosted numerous plays, theater events and other live performances. By World War II, the opera house was largely dormant and its chairs removed so the steel could be salvaged during the scrap metal drives.

The opera house would spend about 70 years pretty much out of the public eye. The site was falling in disrepair when Bonafede and Koehler purchased it in 2005.

The couple was on the tour with LaFalce and Salvatore. The former mayor asked the Bonafede family to take on the project, seeing a restored opera house as a major draw for Albion.

The family has done extensive work on the opera house and the entire building. The opera house has more work to be done. It doesn’t yet have a certificate of occupancy.

Jakubowski has many photos of the interior of the Pratt following an extensive cleanup effort and restorative work.

The first and second floors on the building on North Main Street are home to 11 tenants, up from two when the Bonafede family acquired the property.

“We feel like we’ve salvaged the building,” Michael Bonafede said today. “We didn’t achieve our dreams but we’re ready for someone to take it to the next level.”

Bonafede and Koehler said they would consider an offer for the property from “someone with the right vision.”

Jakubowski wanted to document the efforts by Bonafede and Koehler, and also highlight an important building in Albion’s history.

“People used to have rocking times up there,” he said. “It’s part of the cultural history of the area.”

Jakubowski said generations of people have been driving by the building without seeing or appreciating the opera house. He wanted them to get a glimpse of the grandeur.

“I think a lot of people aren’t aware of what’s up there,” he said today while hanging his photos at Salih Studio. “It’s tucked up on the third floor and people don’t see it or think about it.”

For more on the Pratt, click here.

Another photo by Jakubowski that is in the exhibit.