History of the Wilson Czech Opera House
Construction of Wilson Czech Opera House – Turner Hall
In November 1901, Turner Hall (which later became Wilson Czech Opera House) was completed. Post rock was quarried and hauled in from five miles north of Wilson on the Hay Canyon Road. A man by the name of Frank Kvasnicka Sr., who learned the masonry trade in his home country of Bohemia, along with fourteen men from Wilson, built the structure. The basement was occupied by a kitchen and dining hall along with a sunken gymnasium designed for gymnastics. On the main floor were a stage, ballroom and balcony.
Opera House Ownership
Three Czech lodges originally owned the building: T.J.Sokal Jonas Association Lodge or SOKAL for short, (They were known for their fine gymnastics’ team); Lodge Vesmir # 115, CSPS, now known as CSA Fraternal Life; and Lodge Antonin Dvorak # 143, ZCBJ, now known as Western Fraternal Life Association. As time went by, the Czech lodges lost many of their memberships and could not afford to maintain the building. In June of 1986, the Wilson Czech Opera House Corporation formed. They bought the property from the three lodges and still hold ownership.
Entertainment Center of Wilson
In early 1900’s the Sokal team practiced and entertained in a gym that occupied the basement of the Opera House. The team earned trophies and high honors. Traveling shows came to Wilson on the train and entertained to a full house from the stage. Installed in 1912, the first “movie machine” showed movies several nights a week. Cesky Den, a Thanksgiving celebration for the Wilson Czech Lodges, filled the hall each autumn.
Due to the decline of Sokal memberships, the gymnastic team discontinued. The unoccupied gym was filled and a concrete floor was poured. This made room for a museum. Donations of memorabilia from families in Wilson and surrounding communities allowed the museum to become a point of interest for Wilson. Entertainment continued to be enjoyed with dances, banquets, weddings, school programs, dinner theatre, Czech Queen Pageants, and traveling shows for many years.
In November 2009, a fire started in a nearby building and spread to the Opera House. The first sirens sounded in the early hours of the morning. By the time firefighters had extinguished the flames, the Opera House sat tragically in ruins. A stunned Wilson community had witnessed firsthand the destruction of its historic entertainment center.