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Harmony Opera House

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Harmony Area Historical Society
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Picture of the old Harmony Opera House, 2018.

Description: The Harmony Opera House (now the Old Legion Hall) Harmony, Minnesota. Photograph by Amy Jo Hahn, 2018

Built in 1909, the Harmony Opera House was used for a wide range of activities. It provided a venue for dances, high school graduation ceremonies, political debates, local organization gatherings, and music and theatre performances. In 2018, it is an Old Legion Hall event-rental facility.

Harmony’s chapter of the fraternal benefit society Modern Woodmen of America (MWA) spearheaded the construction of the Harmony Opera House in 1909. The MWA, which had local chapters in small towns across several states, sought to achieve its mission to help rural communities grow and thrive. It provided financial support, volunteer labor, and other resources towards related projects.

In the early 1900s, many small-town opera houses had auditoriums on the second floor and kept first-floor space available for retail rental. Although Harmony’s small opera house did not have a second floor, it did have a largely ineffective balcony. Using moveable folding chairs instead of stationary seating provided flexibility and allowed the opera house to transform easily from a performance hall to a basketball court for high school home games.

The building’s original stage, built along its west end, was a decorative centerpiece. When it first opened, large American flags draped each side and patriotic bunting lined its front. Heavy velvet curtains and several backdrop curtains, one an image of a rural European village on the edge of a small waterfall and river, provided atmospheric opulence. A Greek lyre entwined with flowers painted against a cream-colored background accented the proscenium stage. Flanking doors led to stage right and stage left. Pendant lights hung from the auditorium ceiling.

A grand opening dance was held on January 26, 1910. Harmony’s Yates Harp Orchestra, created and led by Bert Yates, performed. The orchestra became a regular fixture, performing on Wednesdays—Dance Club Night—for several years through the 1920s. The orchestra played polkas, waltzes, fox trots, and square dances, and the Harmony Concert Band played winter concerts. High school graduation ceremonies were held until 1935, when a larger high school with a gym and stage was built.

A highlight of the opera house was its annual March Masquerade Dance. Attendees discarded their masks by midnight, and those wearing the best costumes received awards. Dancing continued until the early morning hours. On other nights, traveling theatre groups stopped at the venue entertaining Harmony residents with comedies, dramas, and musicals.

After the MWA, which sold it in 1919, the opera house’s owners included Adolph Abrahamson, Helmer Johnson, Stanley Todd and Louis Walters. Eng Sandvik operated it as both a dancing hall and a roller skating rink. The Harmony Legion Gustav Berg Post #81 bought the building in 1956 and remodeled it extensively in 1974. The building was also home, from 1963 to 1964, to the newly created Harmony Enterprises, Inc. (HECO) as headquarters for its manufacturing division. Early products of this company included ice fishing shelters and a walking cane that could turn into a seat.

American Legion Post #81 sold the building in 2012. New owners Miles Petrie and Lisa Miller updated and modernized it, reopening it as the Old Legion Hall, a rental facility for wedding receptions, banquets, parties, and community events.

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  • Bibliography
  • Related Resources

Curtiss-Wedge, Franklin. History of Fillmore County. Vols. I & II. Chicago: H. C. Cooper Jr., 1912.

Fillmore County Historical Society. Fillmore County History 1984. Dallas, TX: The Taylor Publishing Company, 1984.

Johnson, Milicent Yates. Let’s Have Harmony: A Centennial History. Harmony Centennial Committee. Rochester, MN: Davies Printing, 1996.

Paolini, Isabel Daniels. Oral history interview with the author, January 13, 2016. “Oral History Project: Voices of Harmony,” Harmony Area Historical Society, Harmony.
http://www.harmonymnhistory.org/uploads/IsabelDanielsPaolini_Transcript_2016_web.pdf

Zoellner. Kristen. “A Veteran’s Service – American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars Remember.” Fillmore County Journal, November 6, 2017.
http://fillmorecountyjournal.com/a-veterans-service-american-legion-and-veterans-of-foreign-wars-remember/

Related Images

Picture of the old Harmony Opera House, 2018.
Picture of the old Harmony Opera House, 2018.
Photograph of Harmony Opera House auditorium, 1909
Photograph of Harmony Opera House auditorium, 1909
Photograph of Harmony's Concert Band, 1919
Photograph of Harmony's Concert Band, 1919

Turning Point

In 1956, Harmony Legion Gustav Berg Post #81 purchases the Harmony Opera House. It uses it as its headquarters for the next fifty-six years.

Chronology

1909

The Harmony Opera House is built by the Modern Woodmen of America.

1910

A grand opening dance is held at the opera house on January 26. It features a performance by the Yates Harp Orchestra.

1919

Adolph Abrahamson buys the building.

1920

The Harmony Opera House hosts Harmony High School graduation ceremonies.

1930

Stanley Todd purchases the building, followed by Louis Walters.

1940

New owner Eng Sandvik opens the hall for dances and roller skating.

1956

The American Legion purchases the building for Harmony American Legion Gustav Berg Post #81.

1963

Harmony Enterprises Inc. (HECO) rents opera house space for its manufacturing headquarters.

1964

HECO ends its rental, moving into its own building on Harmony’s north side.

1974

The American Legion extensively remodels the building, adding a new front entrance.

2012

Miles Petrie and Lisa Miller update and modernize the building. They reopen it as the Old Legion Hall, a rental facility for receptions, banquets, parties and other community events.