Over the years, community has embraced the Farris

The Farris Theatre has had a number of owners since efforts to build it began in 1900, but it has found stability thanks to the efforts of a Friends group and a foundation. (Submitted photo)

The Allen-Morton Watkins Chapter Daughters of the American Revolution held its monthly meeting at the Farris Theater on Oct. 11 and heard from guest speaker Rob Swafford. Rob is president of the Friends of the Farris board of directors.
It was very interesting to hear how the group is taking care of our beloved Farris Theater. Rob started his talk with a quiz about the Farris Theater. Since I had written a story about the Farris last year, I thought it was no big deal because I always loved a good pop quiz in school. I only got about half of the questions right because there were some hard questions on his quiz.
What year was the Farris built? Oh that was an easy one. But number 9 was a hard question. “What was the cost of the Farris renovation from 1995 to 1999 approximately?” I realized that I did not know much about the “Friends of the Farris” so I am sharing some of the highlights.
Before we talk about the Friends of the Farris, I’d like to recap a brief history of the building. It all started with Samuel Daugherty in June 1900 when he asked Richmond to raise $5,000 toward the $15,000 price tag to build an opera house.
In all, five people in charge of fundraising sold 500 tickets at $10 a ticket. Within 2 weeks, they had already raised $3,000. The July 19,1900 Richmond Conservator said that “Daugherty put a force of men at work Tuesday morning cutting down trees and otherwise putting the ground in shape for his new opera house.”
Every few days, there would be a short note in the paper telling about the progress of the opera house. When it opened in 1901, it was the Daugherty Auditorium. The Daugherty name was dropped 10 years later when lawyer J.L. Farris bought the opera house and it became known as the Farris Opera House. He leased it to F.G. Weary II in 1914 and then sold it to him in 1921.
Byron and Donna Jones became the new owners in 1983. They sold it to Ben Mossman and Wade Williams in 1992. On Sept. 15, 1995 the Farris Theater was purchased by the Friends of the Farris Inc. They paid $20,000.
We can thank Mary Thurman for her part in saving the Farris Theater. She planted the seed and many others in our community followed to make sure the Farris was saved. Don Jackson was the first president of the Friends of the Farris Board. Rob Swafford took over after Don and he is doing a great job of leading the 12-member board upward and onward.
The current board  includes Rob Swafford, Sara Seidel, Vicki McCalley, Stephanie Lndwehr, Leslyn Farmer, Bonnie George, Colleen Norman, Max Hockemier, Frazer Letzig, Dr. Daniel Paul, John Richardson and Sherry Smith. Emeritus Board Members are Levan Thurman, Jill Jones, F.G. Weary, Ray and Lucille Gill. Yes, the Farris is in good hands.
The mission of the Friends of the Farris is very simple: “It’s a not-for-profit corporation that was created to maintain the historic Farris Theater as a performance venue and to create, promote, and foster the performing arts, particularly the theatre, for charitable, literary, cultural, and educational purposes. “
This building has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1982. Originally there were seats for 1,000 people, but today the Farris will hold 522 people. When it was renovated, they aisles were widened and the current seats are larger. So how much did it cost to renovate the Farris? From 1995 to 1999 approximately $750,000 was spent on saving the Farris Theater.
Since none of the current Richmond school buildings has a stage, the district has a yearly contract with the Farris to use it for a variety of school programs. This is a win-win deal for Richmond Schools and the Farris Theater. The Farris gets money from the school district and Richmond students get to perform on the same stage that has was used by John Phillip Sousa’s Band, The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Little Jimmy Dickens.
There are some other famous names we have performed on the Farris stage but I am not listing them all because this is one of Rob’s quiz questions.
The price is always right when you go to the Farris to see a first-run movie. All seats are $5, so you will not find any better deal than this. Don’t forget to buy popcorn and a drink on your visit because every dollar spent is more money that helps save the Farris.
The total attendance for 2010 was 19,336 people. Some of these were repeat customers but that is still a lot of people that get to enjoy Farris events. Besides the 40 movies that are shown annually, you can catch a number of great programs which are part of the Farris Concert Series.
There is another group that backs the Farris Theater and it’s called the Farris Foundation, Inc. It is a seven-member board that meets bi-annually. They are Billie Hamann, Rick Westbrook, Margie Bowman, John Gill, Tom Bowman, Stephanie Landwehr and Rob Swafford. The purpose of this board is “To further advance the Farris project’s success and ensure its financial and physical well-being to perpetuity, a broader funding base is created by the Farris Foundation, Inc. Support is sought from individuals, local businesses, corporations, charitable foundations, estates and trusts to fund the Farris Foundation.”
There is a new piece of the Farris puzzle and it’s called “FAD,” the Farris Arts District. This is the name of the project that is currently being completed in the two buildings behind the Farris Theater. FAD was created by the Farris Board on April 9, 2007.
The Farris Arts District is the home of the Hall of Arts Education, which is used for rehearsals, a scenery shop, costume and prop storage and class rooms that can be used for meetings. The Gallery and Museum of Fine Arts is used as an Art Gallery, community room, a Museum of Farris history, pre- and post-performance events, tenant space and additional costume and prop storage. The new FAD buildings are on schedule to be completed around the end of this year. Watch for the grand opening and new events that will be coming soon. It is exciting for Richmond to have its very own Art Gallery, so we all need to be a part of this project by helping with financial support and attending special events as they are created by the Friends of the Farris.
Our “Friends of the Farris” were not the first “friends” group to support the local arts. “The people of Richmond have been liberal in helping and we hope that they will continue the friends of the Daugherty Auditorium.” -Richmond Conservator June 27, 1901.
I think the “Friends of the Daugherty” would be proud of the “Friends of the Farris“. Their opera house is still around and it looks as good as it did the day it opened in 1901. It has taken a lot of love, time, money and hard work to make the Farris what it is today. We all need to support and appreciate our opera house so that it will be here for many more generations to enjoy as much as we enjoy it today.

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