Driver Opera House
Center for the Arts
Darlington, Wis.


What is the Driver Opera House?
The opera house is part of downtown Darlington’s historic district.  Built in 1883 by Josephus Driver it has served the community with first floor retail space since its construction.  The second floor opera house served traveling theater groups for much of its early history and hosted dances until its last one on St Patrick’s Day in 1951.

Who owns the Driver Opera House?
The Board of Directors purchased the building in December 2012 for $190,000 on a land contract with the previous owners. It was designated a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization in 2013.

What is a 501(c)3?
A 501(c)(3) is a designation by the U. S. Internal Revenue Service that makes certain donations to the organization tax deductible.

Who runs the Driver House organization?
The Driver Opera House Restoration, Inc. is a group of community residents who have organized with a mission to acquire the Driver Opera House, flood proof the building and restore the opera house to its original condition.

The Driver Opera House Restoration, Inc. is governed by a 14 member Board of Directors with guidance from our Ambassadors, made up of community members.

Memberships to the Driver Opera House Center for the Arts are available.  Memberships provide the operating capital for cultural programming.  Members receive a quarterly newsletter and various other benefits depending on their level of membership.  Membership information is available on the organization website, or by contacting any Board Member.

How would restoring the Driver Opera House benefit Lafayette County?
Preserving the Driver Opera House will have a positive impact on Darlington and Lafayette County’s economic health and the property values in downtown Darlington.   Rehabilitation of historic buildings requires more skilled labor, creates more jobs, and spurs more new business growth and thus supports more jobs than new construction.

Experts in the real estate industry maintain that when a community spends money on its downtown, it signals to private investors that it’s safe for them to do the same and that their investment will be more secure, leading to additional new businesses in the downtown.

Restoring the Driver Opera House will benefit Lafayette County by making it available as a place for all Lafayette County residents.  The Driver Opera House Board of Directors envisions community events like dance lessons, workshops, artist space, alternate space for theatrical groups, business meeting space, and a place for family events like reunions, weddings, graduation parties and Quinceañeras.

The arts are an important factor used by many businesses and individuals when deciding to locate to a community.  Darlington already is known as a ‘quality of life community”.   A restored opera house will only make it more so. 

A vibrant cultural center will also be a draw for tourists.  Heritage tourism, a huge economic benefit, is often cited as the main reason tourists visit a city.  According to the League of Historic American Theatres, tourists visiting historic sites typically stay longer and spend more than other tourists.

Historic preservation helps save dollars and promotes recycling by using existing buildings and infrastructure.  It encourages a move back to the downtown and neighborhoods around it by enhancing what’s already there.

The first floor will be rented to business(es), providing a revenue stream for the 2nd floor Opera House to help with maintenance of the building.

Do we need another performance hall?
The Darlington community recognizes the wonderful resource they have in the fully equipped performance facility located at the Darlington High School.  The community will continue to use the High School for performances requiring extensive light and sound.

However, the Darlington community is fortunate to have several performance groups, including but not limited to the High School thespians, the Pop Factory Players, the children’s theatre group, the Darlington Community Players and many other smaller ensembles and groups.  It is expected that the stage at the Driver Opera House would be used as performance space for those performances especially suited to the unique character of the Opera House or as practice space.

More than just a performance space, the Driver Opera House will be home to the Driver Opera House Center for the Arts, providing a base for smaller and informal arts and cultural performance, dance and other music lessons, creative workshops and seminars, touring exhibits and films.

As well, the second floor space will be available to the community for family receptions and events, business meetings and the like.

Does the Darlington High School Theatre Department support this effort?
The Darlington High School Theatre Department fully supports the restoration of the Driver Opera House.   The high school and the community are well known for their nurturing of love for the arts in its young people.  The renovation of the Driver Opera House will increase opportunities for youth and all community members to grow in their love for the arts and further enhance the quality of life in the Darlington community.

When was the Driver Opera House built?
The Driver Opera House was built in 1883 by Josephus Driver, in part so that his sons would have space for their businesses on the first floor.

The structure of the opera house has never been altered.

When did performances cease to occur at the Driver Opera House?
After being used as a facility for travelling theatre groups, the Opera House hosted American Legion dances during the 1940’s.

The last dance was held on St. Patrick’s Day in 1951.

How will the public feel safe in such an old building?
The Driver Opera House Board of Directors appointed a Design Committee that worked with an experienced professional architect on a plan for restoration that includes bringing the opera house fully into compliance with all State of Wisconsin building codes for fire prevention, public safety and handicap accessibility.

Will the Driver Opera House be handicap accessible?
The Driver Opera House will be accessible to individuals with disabilities. Governmental regulations require that public spaces be handicap accessible.  This means the opera house will have a public elevator.

Who will maintain the Driver Opera House once the renovation is completed?
The Driver Opera House will be maintained by The Driver Opera House Restoration, Inc.

Does the City of Darlington have ownership in the Driver Opera House?
The City of Darlington has no ownership in the Driver Opera House.  The Driver Opera House Restoration, Inc. Board of Directors purchased the building in December 2012 for $190,000 on a land contract with the previous owners.

How much will it cost to renovate the Driver Opera House?
The restoration will be divided into two phases. 

Phase One consists of acquiring the building and flood proofing the structure.  The total cost of Phase One is approximately $1.3M.

Phase Two consists of restoring the exterior shell and second floor.  The expected cost of Phase Two is $1.2M. 

All cash and property contributions to The Driver Opera House Restoration, Inc. are tax deductible.

Is this measure supported by the City and other stakeholders?
The City of Darlington Mayor and City Council are in support of this project, because they believe it is an important part of a thriving downtown, and because they feel it will help to improve the economy in Darlington.

The City of Darlington applied for and received a grant for $542,000 from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to be used for the flood proofing of the structure.  The Driver Opera House organization is responsible for raising the required $231,000 match to meet the $773,000 total cost of the flood proofing work.

How can I contribute to the Driver Opera House Project?

  • Send your tax-deductible contribution to The Driver Opera House Restoration, Inc. PO Box 62, Darlington, WI 53530;

  • Work with your teller at First National Bank of Darlington or Benton State Bank for a convenient monthly transfer from your account to the Driver Opera House account.

  • Donation envelopes can be found at Darlington area funeral homes, where you can make a donation to the Opera House in memory of loved ones.

  • We can work with you to set-up a donation from your Estate.  Contact any of our Board of Directors.