Summerfest Makes A Stop At The Grand Opera House In Wilmington

WILMINGTON, Del. (CBS) – Our Summerfest celebration continues with a visit to The First State.

The Holy Trinity Greek Festival is the largest fundraiser of the year for this Wilmington, Delaware  community and Eyewitness News was there to capture all the fun.

Along a two block stretch in Wilmington, Delaware there are three performance venues boasting 200,000 square feet of program space.

We start at the Grand Opera House. The mission here originated in the 1800s. That mission is the same today.

PHOTOS: Summerfest At The Greek Fest

It was built to resemble the Paris Opera House in the City of Light, The Grand Opera House on North Market Street has embraced performers and patrons alike for 146 years.

Making it one of the 10 oldest opera houses in the U.S. still in use today.

“It was built in the 1870s to put Wilmington on the map. So that Wilmington could compete for attention with Philadelphia and Baltimore,” said Executive Director Mark Fields.

Outside, the facade is fabricated from cast iron made to look like stone. Inside, A mix of hard and soft.

The muses — high above — keep watch over a house that fits a crowd of 1,200 people.

“There’s a real electricity in the room,” said Fields. “Artists love to play here because this is the room they look out into as they’re standing on stage.”

Built in 1871, then renovated a century later to the tune of $5 million, the Grand Opera House has attracted talent as wide-ranging as The March King, John Philip Sousa and Ethel Barrymore of the famous Barrymore family.

To modern-day acts, including Tony Bennet.

“He said, ‘I’ve performed in theaters all over the country and I can count on one hand the ones that compare of this one in terms of beauty and acoustics,'” said Fields.

Located just a couple of blocks away from the grand and built 42 years later is the playhouse, and the long list of notables who’ve performed there is just as impressive.

The DuPont company constructed The Playhouse on Rodney Square in just 100 days.

The Broadway-style theater was built to attract world-class performers that could entertain employees and the entire community.

Since 1913, The Playhouse has turned into a training ground of sorts.

“A tryout house for shows moving to New York to play on Broadway, and also a primary touring spot for shows coming out on Broadway,” said Fields.

Fields says Kristin Chenoweth has credited one of her performances at The Playhouse with launching her career.

And next to the stage — the wall of fame.  A running tally, In autograph form, a who’s who of talent.

The venue has three resident companies: ballet, opera, and orchestra. Right next door, there’s a third venue called The Baby Grand. a stage for emerging artist.

For a full list of performances, click here.

THE HOLY TRINITY CHURCH

For the Wilmington Greek community, the journey started long before World War II and this celebration wouldn’t be what it is today without Holy Trinity Church.

“The church is very important to influence community because it was always an entity that brings people together,” said Very Reverend Archimandrite Ambrose Bitziadis-Bowers.

The first known Greek immigrants arrived in Wilmington in 1890, almost 50 years later, funding was secured to build the church.

But, World War II delayed the construction.

It wasn’t until the early 1950s that Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church was finally completed.

“It was built, hands on, by many of the members. There was a contractor, there was a construction contract, but a lot of the labor was supplied by the parishioners,” said Constantine Caras, past president and archon of the Greek Orthodox Church. “They did the brick work, they dug the foundations and some of them are still alive today.”

Brick by brick, a foundation for Greek immigrants grew into a robust community.

“Basically it’s home. If you need comfort, if you need joy it’s a place to be joyous. I mean, the church is the place,” said Caras.

Today, the beautiful works of art adorn the ceilings and walls of holy trinity, paid for by generous parishioners.

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