Located at 315 North High Street in downtown California, MO, the opera house/theatre was built in 1885. The building was designed by Jerome Bibb "J.B." Legg, a well-known St. Louis architect. Legg was also responsible for designing many Missouri courthouses, opera houses, theaters, churches, schools and public buildings and remodeled the Missouri state capital in 1887. The Finke Theater was named to the National Register of Historic Places for its significance in the area of entertainment and recreation in 2004.
The two-story brick building was California, MO's only opera house and theater and therefore was the main entertainment center for the community. From 1885-1897 it was known as the California Opera House and then the Finke Opera House from 1897-1922. While it was the opera house, the building was home to stage shows, plays, musical and school performances. Blind Boone played the piano at the opera house in 1893. Cole Younger, an associate of Jesse James, lectured at the opera house in 1909. From 1922-1937, it was known as Finke Theatre and featured vaudeville and motion pictures. In 1937, it was renovated from its Victorian style to an art deco style and became known as the Ritz Theater, from 1937-1978. It is now known as Finke Theatre since its opening for the 2009-10 season.
Restoration and Renovation
Renovation of the Finke Theatre began by California Progress, Inc., known as CPI. CPI planning and fundraising was slow but steady. Dedicated volunteers spent innumerable hours on tear down and rebuilding the space. In 2006, a visionary and generous benefactor donated the adjacent Finke Building with an idea of expanding the lobby.
To stay true to the era and history of the theatre, efforts were made to reclaim as much of the building's original hardware and fixtures as possible. Now the beautiful Finke Theatre has refinished original floors, reclaimed and re-upholstered seats with original aisle floor lighting, extraordinary painted wall detail with original art deco sconces, an expanded stage wired for sound and light, the lobby features a wood and textured glass ticket booth. The first floor of the adjacent Finke Building boasts a spacious concessions area and comfortable handicap accessible restrooms.
In 2009, the newly renovated Finke Theatre was reopened for our first season lineup of performances.
In 2010, the Friends of the Finke board and volunteers took over the maintenance of the physical buildings and ongoing construction projects to continue CPI's outstanding vision and work. The completion of the city sewer system provided handicapped accessibility and marked the start of our long awaited marquee construction. Accurately modeled after historic photographs, the marquee offers a distinct lighted and sheltered entrance for patrons and passersby.
There continues to be a great deal of work to be done at the Finke Theatre. Building plans include conference room and office space on the second floor when funding permits.