Welcome to the spectacular Springer Opera House, the State Theatre of Georgia and a leading Southern cultural institution for 144 years. As you stroll from the gaslit street into the splendid Edwardian Grand Lobby, you can easily imagine the 19th century merchants, tradesmen, farmers, steamboat passengers and arts patrons streaming into the theatre eager to catch their first glimpse of Edwin Booth, Ma Rainey or Lillie Langtry.
This spectacular American treasure was built by Francis Joseph Springer, an immigrant from Alsace who moved to Columbus before the Civil War. Springer became prosperous in the grocery business but had brought his love of theatre, music and dance from his native Rhine River Valley to the burgeoning Chattahoochee River Valley and dreamt of building a European style theatre here on the banks of this great Southern waterway.
The Springer Opera House opened Feb. 21, 1871, and soon became nationally known as the finest theatre between New York and New Orleans.
As you gaze around the opulent main hall with its curving double balconies, delicate tulip lights and high proscenium arch, imagine sitting beneath the glow of the flickering gaslight watching the legendary Edwin Booth, band leader John Philip Sousa, matinee idols James O’Neill and Joseph Jefferson or Barnum’s famous General Tom Thumb perform on the Springer stage. Or perhaps you’ve come to see the young Will Rogers, Agnes DeMille, Ethel Barrymore or Ruth Gordon. As the limelight glows hot, you can almost see the great orators William Jennings Bryan or Franklin D. Roosevelt delivering lectures on the pressing issues of the day. Like millions of people before you have found, a visit to the Springer Opera House is a special experience.
The Springer continued as a major theatre center until the stock market crash of 1929. With the onset of the Great Depression, the vast network of road companies which provided the lifeblood of American theatre collapsed and the Springer succumbed to the advent of the newest technology, movies.
In 1964, the theatre where the Barrymore’s and the Booth’s performed was slated for demolition. As the wrecking ball hovered above the stage house, a group of citizens determined to save the Springer, aroused community support and began to raise the funds. When the newly renovated Springer Opera House reopened in 1965, Southerners once again hurried to their seats beneath the huge brass chandelier to enjoy the very best in theatre, music and dance.
Today, the Springer is one of America’s most vibrant professional theatre companies with a popular Mainstage Series, an innovative second-space series called Studio II, a Theatre for Young Audience Series featuring some of this region’s most talented student actors and a national touring program called Springer Thearicals. It is also the home of one of the nation’s finest training schools for young actors, the Springer Theatre Academy.
The Springer is not only Georgia’s oldest professional theatres, it is also only one of seven theatres in the United States that is also an National Historic Landmark.
In 1998-99, the Springer received a comprehensive, $12 million historic renovation which included areas of the building untouched in the 1964 renovation. This expanded program space from 35,000 to 75,000 square feet. This splendid preservation project included one of the most ambitious historic interior treatments of any theatre in America and a complete re-equipping with state-of-the-art lighting, sound, rigging, rehearsal facilities and technical support equipment.
The beautiful mainstage theatre, Emily Woodruff Hall, is named for a dedicated patron, performer, humanitarian and original trustee who inspired the 1964 renovation.