Saving the Tibbits Opera House: From Wrecking Ball to Restoration.


Built in 1882, the Tibbits Opera House, a Victorian opera house in Coldwater, MI, still performs live stage-shows via children's theatre, community theatre, and professional theatre. It also functions as a roadhouse for other entertainers like magicians, tribal dancers, and musicians. It has gone through several renovations in its time, functioning as a stage for live performances, to a movie house, and now back to a live-stage venue.

With several other movie theaters in the area as competition, by the late 1950s, the Tibbits ceased functioning as a movie theater and went into disrepair. At this time, there was talk that historic building was going to be razed and turned into a parking lot, and that is when several community groups, led by the Coldwater Players, stepped in with a “Save the Tibbits” campaign. The Schulte Amusement Company agreed to sell the building to the Coldwater Players for a minimal sum of $7500. Not a day went by that there wasn’t an article or photo in the paper about the latest fundraiser, donation request, or labor request. From January of 1961 to April of 1961, everything from new fire doors to a new heating system to a fresh coat of paint was installed by various service groups, with the Tibbits in use from April until December of that year when the fire marshal ordered the building to be closed until further repairs were made.

Another campaign was launched in January of 1962, and by the end of the year a non-profit Tibbits foundation was formed. Even without the balance in hand for repairs, in May of 1963 the board continued plans for repairs of the roof, sprinkler system, and heating system. In November of 1963, the unheated Tibbits officially opened for a Grand Ole Opry show, which played to a shivering but packed crowd.

By December, George Vaughn Lowther was hired as manager and director, and in 1964, the Tibbits was back in use as a professional summer stock venue and roadhouse. Since 1964, the Tibbits has continued to be a steadily-used landmark of the community and has gone through several managers and renovations. Currently, the Tibbits still functions as a non-profit organization and the Foundation still owns the building, which is under restoration. In the fall of 2012, the outside restoration phase was completed and plans to restore the inside are currently underway.


Stephanie D. (Hemker) Burdick


August 18, 2014


(c) Copyright 2014 by Stephanie Burdick, all rights reserved. Posted here with permission of the author.




Stephanie D. (Hemker) Burdick, “Saving the Tibbits Opera House: From Wrecking Ball to Restoration.,” Branch County History, accessed June 3, 2023,