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Historic opera house, a landmark on Westminster’s Main Street since 1858, going up for auction

The building known as the Westminster Opera House at 140 E. Main St., which has housed everything from Civil War troops to stage performances to more recently a printing company, is up for auction.

The auction will take place Thursday on the premises at 1 p.m. with a preview beforehand, beginning at noon. The starting bid is $200,000, and Jon Levinson, veteran auctioneer, will handle the auction.

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The building, built in 1858, is 20,650 square feet and three stories tall, with a brick facade likened in style to “the new Brutalism” in the documentation for the property in the Maryland Historical Trust. It was a notably tall addition to Main Street when it was built.

It was built as Odd Fellows Hall for a chapter of that fraternal organization and served as a community center and a performance space. In October of 1870, Frederick Douglass gave a speech at the hall.

In the life of the building, it has served many uses including an oyster bar, a library, a sewing factory for the company English American, and the site of the company Opera House Printing after George E. Trump purchased it in 1975.

In the 1980s, the owners of the printing company began renovating the third floor into a nearly 4,000-square-foot penthouse apartment, complete with two kitchens, a solarium and an indoor swimming pool.

Photo courtesy of Don Warner-Porterfield collection. The Opera House on Main Street in Westminster is pictured in 1912.
Photo courtesy of Don Warner-Porterfield collection. The Opera House on Main Street in Westminster is pictured in 1912. (Kenneth Koons Jr / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

With the building’s history comes a bit of local legend, as some have speculated that the ghost of Marshall Buell, a performer said to have been murdered after an inflammatory satirical performance at the Opera House over a hundred years ago, still hangs around the building where he gave his last show.

However, Genevieve Trump, the former resident of the upstairs apartment, said she had never seen hide nor hair of the supposed ghost when she spoke with the Times in 2013 when the property was put up for sale.

The property falls within the downtown business zone, offering a lot of flexibility for different uses, according to listing agent Julie Van Tilburg, of JHL Auctioneers LLC. Because the property is historic, there are also tax credits available for people who want to renovate it, she said.

As of Monday, no offers had been made on the property prior to the auction, but Van Tilburg said there has been a steady stream of interest for both personal and commercial uses, including a nonprofit theatre group considering the property as a performance venue and a business owner considering basing an interior design business there and leasing out some of the space.

The building is being auctioned as is because it needs significant maintenance as a result of its age.

“We’re hopeful that someone will take it over and restore it to the former glory,” Van Tilburg said.

The Woman’s Club of Westminster presented The Women Who Did at the Opera House on Main Street on Feb. 6, 1917. The cast included Mrs. G.W. Mather, Mrs. J.P. Wantz, Mrs. M.H.S. Unger, Mrs. Carroll Albaugh, Mrs. Jesse Myers, Mrs. Helen Northrop, Mrs. James Beacham, Mrs. T.H. Lewis, Mrs. H.L. Elderdice, Mrs. C.E. Forlines, Mrs. Martha Shaw, and Mrs. A.N. Ward.
The Woman’s Club of Westminster presented The Women Who Did at the Opera House on Main Street on Feb. 6, 1917. The cast included Mrs. G.W. Mather, Mrs. J.P. Wantz, Mrs. M.H.S. Unger, Mrs. Carroll Albaugh, Mrs. Jesse Myers, Mrs. Helen Northrop, Mrs. James Beacham, Mrs. T.H. Lewis, Mrs. H.L. Elderdice, Mrs. C.E. Forlines, Mrs. Martha Shaw, and Mrs. A.N. Ward. (Courtesy Historical Society of Carroll County)
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