In a town rich in history, the old opera house at 140 E. Main St. might seem almost ordinary. But, this building is more than it appears. Located in the heart of Westminster, its 155-year-old brick walls thrum with secrets, stories and even a hint of the supernatural.
The site, known by its original purpose as the Odd Fellows Hall, or more colloquially as the opera house, has played many roles over the years. It has been a printing company, oyster bar, library, sewing factory, quarters for Civil War troops and a venue for stage and film. One traveling entertainer, Marshall Buell, is said never to have left. More than a hundred years after his murder in the long-gone stables, some visitors and passersby still report seeing the comedian outside the building silently spinning his monologue.
"People are not very aware of it [the opera house] because it's not used as a public building anymore," said Kathy Beatty, of the Historical Society of Carroll County. "Frederick Douglass spoke there. People are amazed to find out Frederick Douglass came to Westminster."
Beatty said the building's size was unusual for the time it was built in 1858. Because the frontage on Main Street is relatively small, most people don't realize how large it is.
"It's such a wonderful building. It's architecturally different from anything else in Westminster," she said. "It really stood out on Main Street when it was built."
The facade, over 40 feet tall, is imposing compared to neighboring buildings, and is described in Maryland Historical Trust documents as stark in contrast to the "coziness" of Main Street.
"Although the main facade of the 'old opera house' seems to be excessively praised or damned locally, it is difficult to deny the basic truth that the texture of East Main Street would be radically altered without it," state the documents.
Peeking in through the double doors in the front of the building, you will likely see an image of yourself reflected in an arched passageway/ticket window that has been filled in with a mirror.
Beyond the wall of the entrance way, on the first two floors of the 20,000-square-foot structure, are several rooms big enough for ballrooms - though the walls are exposed brick and the fittings are mostly industrial. There are some rooms once used as dance studios and a few offices tucked away into corners. In addition to the main stairs, there are theatrical hatches with ladders connecting the levels and a loading dock in the back.
On the third floor, there is something really unexpected - a modern, penthouse apartment featuring a huge terrace and a solarium that houses a large indoor pool, hot tub, koi pond, waterfall and gas fireplace. That is where Genevieve Trump made her home until three years ago.
Her husband, the late George Trump, bought the building for his business, Opera House Printing, in 1975. Genevieve said he restored the front of the building to its original facade and leveled out the theater area. In the 1980s, the couple began an addition on the back of the building and built the apartment.
A huge crane lowered in the pool that is about 8 feet deep and 25 feet wide.
"It was my husband's dream to have a pool there," said Trump. "It was crazy, but he liked to do things like that."
Trump said the apartment was often used for parties at Christmastime and for the Super Bowl.
"My husband loved parties," she said. "If two people came over, we had a party."
It wasn't uncommon for guests to take a dip in the pool at halftime, she said.
Trump said one of her favorite things was to sit in the hot tub and watch the snow fall on the curved walls of the solarium.
"It was lovely watching the snowflakes on the glass," she said.
Steel I-beams, like those used in skyscrapers, are used to support the pool and protect the integrity of the building. Although, Trump said the original building was already very sturdy.
"The walls are four bricks deep," she said.
Other features of the apartment include a loft space over the living room with model train tracks running through a flat area and mountains set up on one side of a spiral staircase and an open bedroom on the other side. Although the sunroom and terrace offer treetop views in almost every direction, the large master suite seems to have been arranged to capture the best view in the building through a window facing College Hill.
"It was very convenient," said Genevieve. "It was in town but up above all the noise and in the treetops."
George died in 2002 and Genevieve continued to run Opera House Printing until 2009. About a year later, she moved to Florida and put the opera house up for sale. Bruce D'Anthony is her real estate agent.
"Potential buyers are always surprised," said D'Anthony. "They say they didn't know this was here."
He said the possibilities for the building are almost unlimited. Buyers have wanted it for a variety of mixed-use projects that would include a business and apartments or condominiums.
The property is listed for $575,000. D'Anthony said although many buyers have loved the building, no deal has been made yet because of the high cost of implementing the renovations the buyers wanted.
"This could be anything you want it to be," said D'Anthony.
As for the ghost, both D'Anthony and Trump dismissed the spirit of the dead comedian as either nonexistent or harmless. Trump said her employees believed in the ghost and some visitors said they saw strange things.
"It think you have to believe in that sort of thing to see it," she said. "I lived there and never saw anything."