LACONIA — The building at 781 Union Ave. that houses the Lakeport Opera House was sold last week to KMH Realty Corporation for $40,000.
The property at the corner of Union Avenue and Clinton Street at Lakeport Square, was owned for many years by Gerard Horn. Originally it was scheduled to be sold at auction, but the auction was canceled when Horn accepted the offer of KMH Realty Corporation.
The city currently assesses the 18,000 square foot building and 0.19-acre lot for $224,800, with the building representing $156,400 of the value of the property.
KMH Realty Corporation, formed in 2005 by its president Kevin Michael Hutchinson of 27 Dutile Road, Belmont to purchase, sell and rent real estate, owns a dozen other properties in the city. All are older properties, eight dating to the late 19th century, according to the records of the Assessing Department, and all residential, including seven multi-family buildings and five single-family units. Hutchinson did not respond to telephone calls.
Hutchinson is also vice president of WJK Realty Corporation, whose president Walter J. Hutchinson also lists his address as 27 Dutile Road, Belmont. Both KMH Realty and WJK Realty share the same address — P.O. Box 745, Winnisquam.
Last year, city officials evacuated and shuttered a four-unit apartment building at 145-147 Union Ave., which was then owned by WJK Realty. Fire Chief Ken Erickson described fire code and sanitary conditions in the building as "deplorable." In January, the property was acquired by Wells Fargo Bank. WJK Realty also owns residential and commercial properties at 322 Union Ave. and 322 South Main St.
The three-story frame building at Lakeport Square was built in 1885 and faces Union Avenue. It was known as the Opera House Block for the theater on the second floor, which after staging plays, reviews, concerts and recitals as well as hosting dances, receptions and graduations and finally showing movies went dark about half-a-century ago. For some years the theater has served as storage space.
The Lakeport Post Office once operated on the ground floor, which was home to a variety of retail stores through the years, including a drug store operated by Horn, a pharmacist who is now retired. Most recently a pawn shop and second-hand store occupied the space.
The International Order of Odd Fellows and Darius A. Drake Post of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of veterans of the Civil War, took rooms on the uppermost floor.
There is about 4,500-square-feet of space on the ground floor and almost 9,250-square-feet of space on the upper floors.
Although structurally sound, the wiring and plumbing date from near the beginning of the last century. Moreover, the building does not meet current building codes. Horn recalled that some years ago the Streetcar Company approached him about acquiring the building, but abandoned the project after learning that the cost of restoring the theater alone would be close to $1 million.
Astride a busy intersection with limited on-street and off-street parking, the location has been a handicap to commercial enterprises. The single story brick building next door, once home to a dime store, stood empty for several years before a restaurant opened more than a year ago only to close in fewer than three months.
Members of the Heritage Commission toured the building. But, Pam Clark, who chairs the commission, said since no application to demolish the building has been filed, the commission has yet to hold a formal discussion about its future.
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