Bent’s Opera House restoration awarded top preservation honor by Landmark Society

File photos: The three-year restoration effort of the Bent’s Opera House in Medina has been recognized with the Barber Conable Award, the highest preservation award given by the Landmark Society of Western New York.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 18 November 2022 at 5:56 pm

MEDINA – The Landmark Society of Western New York has recognized the ambitious transformation of the Bent’s Opera House with the organization’s top preservation award.

The first floor of the Bent’s Opera House has been transformed into a fine dining venue after the site was last used as a bank.

The project was a three-year effort led by Roger Hungerford and his wife Heather Farnsworth. Bent’s was honored with the Barber Conable Award, named for the late congressman from Genesee County. Conable supported the establishment of the Federal Investment Tax Credit Program for the rehabilitation of historic, income-producing buildings. He also served as president of the World Bank.

The building was mostly vacant for decades. The Bank of America used part of the first floor until closing and giving the building to the Orleans Renaissance Group, which did emergency repairs to a corner of the building that was in danger of falling into the street.

A total renovation was beyond the resources of the ORG. Hungerford committed to the restoration, which includes the first-floor Harvest restaurant, 10 boutique hotel rooms on the second floor and the restored opera house on the third floor, a space that can be used for performances, receptions and conferences.

“With this restoration, the owners of Bent’s Opera House have returned this Erie Canal village landmark to its historic role as a community gathering space and performance venue,” the Landmark Society stated in announcing the award. “Medina natives Roger and Heather have demonstrated a commitment to historic preservation and the long-term economic sustainability of the Village of Medina.”

This is the second straight year a project in Orleans County received the Landmark Society’s top preservation award. Last year the honor went to Home Leasing for a $17 million project at the former Holley High School, turning that abandoned site into 41 apartments for senior citizens and also the Village of Holley offices and meeting room.

The third floor includes chandeliers to complement the elegance of the space.

With the Bent’s project, the Landmark Society praised the team of professionals that helped make the project happen: Talis Equity, Le Chase Construction, Talis Historic Restoration, Kideney Architects, and Preservation Studios.

The building at 444 Main St. is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Bent’s opened in 1865 and is a prominent “cornerstone property in the Village of Medina,” the Landmark Society said.

The Conable award was presented on Sunday during the Landmark Society’s annual awards program.

Bent’s Hall was built in 1864-65 by well-known sandstone builder and Medina native, Patrick O’Grady. Built at the height of the Civil War and the Lincoln presidency, it is one of the oldest surviving opera houses in the United States.

It was named for a local farmer who owned the property and had the structure erected. For many years it was a prominent venue for concerts, plays, shows, commencements, elections and other public functions. P.T. Barnum and “Buffalo Bill” Cody were among the hundreds of touring performers who entertained on Bent’s stage.

With the advent of movies, the opera house as a performance venue gradually fell into disuse. Over the years, Medina Elks Lodge had quarters on the second floor and beginning in 1970, the first floor became home to the first of several banks, the last of which was Bank of America.

Heather Farnsworth gives a tour of the third floor event space last month to members of the Medina Sandstone Society, which held its Hall of Fame luncheon at the first floor restaurant.

Here is how the top floor looked before a major renovation led by Roger Hungerford and his wife Heather Farnsworth.

The site at the corner of routes 31 and 63 was in rough shape before the major reconstruction project.