On a recent Wednesday, two longtime Springer Opera House docents took an unsuspecting young visitor on a whirlwind, madcap tour through the 139-year-old building.
Jimmy Reynoso, 20, of San Diego, was visiting his brother, Anthony, 18, who was graduating from Airborne School the next day at Fort Benning.
He had gone online to check out Columbus before flying in for what he called “a mini-vacation.”
With an afternoon free, Reynoso took a taxi from his hotel to downtown Columbus, where he stopped at the Columbus Convention & Visitors Bureau. There, he was told of the Springer tour.
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After the two-block walk to the Springer and paying for his ticket, Reynoso was greeted by Doug McLeod and Jimmy Motos in the Springer lobby.
As the tour began, McLeod, who has been conducting tours for 10 years, told a bit of Springer history — that it was built in 1871 by Francis Joseph Springer, who moved to Columbus from Alsace, France.
A market was on the first floor, while the theater occupied the second floor. The third floor were hotel rooms. And since it was still in the late 1800s, African-Americans could see a play at the Springer, but had to enter through a separate staircase and sit on wooden benches that didn’t offer very good viewing.
In 1905, the first renovation of the Springer took place when the theater was moved to the first floor, where it remains today, with balcony seating on the second floor. The third floor remained hotel rooms and seating for African-Americans.
The various types of seating are on display on the second floor of the Springer today.
After the Great Depression, the vaudeville circuit began to disappear. By the end of World War II, the beautiful grand dame of theaters became a movie theater and closed its doors in 1959.
Then in 1963, word on the street was the Springer would be demolished. Just before the wrecking ball swung in the direction of the Springer, a group of concerned residents got together and managed to save the Springer. Most of the money was raised by the Junior League of Columbus. Still it wasn’t enough to renovate the third floor, which remained covered in dust until 1997 when a capital campaign, plus money from the Columbus Challenge, raised more than $11.3 million to complete the renovation.
In 1998, the “grand” renovation was finished when the entire building was spruced up.
Usually on the tour, visitors get to see the lobby, the Grand Promenade that leads from the lobby to the Springer Saloon and the Emily Woodruff Hall (the main stage).
And they get to hear a couple of ghost stories.
When the tour ended an hour later, Reynoso said he loved the tour.
“The tour was awesome,” he said. “I liked the ghost stories and I especially liked seeing the third floor.”
Because he was the only one on the tour, the docents let him peek into the third floor, where the lighting and sound booth is, along with the benches where black patrons sat so long ago.
He had already been to Historic Linwood Cemetery where he said he took a lot of pictures. Reynoso was headed back to his hotel room, but was planning to see both the National Infantry Museum and the National Civil War Naval Museum at Port Columbus the next day.