Marilyn Horne Museum to open in restored building

Artists rendering of inside of museum

Pitt-Bradford will open its Marilyn Horne Museum and Exhibit Center May 6, attracting people to the city's downtown.

In addition to creating the 3,400 square-foot museum, Pitt-Bradford is making infrastructure improvements throughout the entire six-story Marilyn Horne Hall and will open a café with Starbucks select service similar to that in the Hanley Library on campus.

The rest of the first floor will be occupied by a museum gift shop that will carry Pitt and Pitt-Bradford merchandise in addition to Marilyn Horne-themed items; an assembly room; offices for a museum manager/docent and the Bradford Creative and Performing Arts Center.

Marilyn Horne Hall (formerly the Seneca Building) is located on Marilyn Horne Way, along Veterans Square, anchoring the west end of Bradford's Main Street, along with the Emery Towers apartment building.

“The Marilyn Horne Museum will add a touch of the arts and culture to the area,” said Bradford Main Street Manager Chelsea Schwab. “Many of the best Main Streets in Pennsylvania have at least one similar cultural element; a museum, a theater, or an art gallery for example, and it is wonderful to see downtown Bradford following suit and moving toward becoming a well-rounded Historic District.”

Architectural firm MacLachlan, Cornelius and Filoni of Pittsburgh is preserving the Art Deco qualities of the building, which the International Order of the Odd Fellows built in 1931 as its meeting place. For example, the new foyer will feature parquet marble flooring popular during the 1930s.

“The changes made to exterior of the building are actually bringing the building closer to its original look, peeling back layers of alterations done over the years,” Schwab said. “This sort of restoration sets an important example for the rest of the district in embracing each building's unique past and trying to preserve and protect that original look while repurposing the structure for future use.”

From the foyer, the first thing visitors are likely to notice are four replica costumes created for the museum. The costumes are from Horne's operatic roles in “Aida,” “The Barber of Seville,” “Carmen” and “Orfeo” at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City during the height of her career in the 1970s.

Inside the museum, displays will capture the highlights of Horne's life and career while interactive features will teach visitors about vocal music and opera.

One station will allow visitors to stage an opera, creating animated characters and choosing costumes and sets. Users can email their creation to themselves or a friend.

Another station will introduce visitors to the vocal parts of soprano, mezzo, tenor and bass. Visitors can then test themselves on identifying different voice parts.

Since many operas are not in English, a third station will be a matching game in which players hear part of a song, then try to match it to words.

For those who prefer English, a giant jukebox with touchscreen will allow visitors to play popular songs sung by Horne.

Throughout the exhibits, visitors will be able to hear interviews and sound clips of Horne performing.

Steve Feldman, who designed the museum, said it is unusual to be working on a museum project while the subject is still living. He and the multimedia specialists of the subcontractor Hillmann & Carr took advantage of being able to interview Horne for parts of the museum, including a short biographical film.

The film will be shown in a small theater covered in murals to make it appear like a miniature version of the baroque opera house Teatro La Fenice in Venice, Italy, widely considered the most beautiful opera house in the world. Horne sang the title role of Rossini's “Tancredi” there in 1981.

The museum will be free. Pitt-Bradford is in the process of hiring a docent to market the museum and arrange tours for schools and other groups.

A new landscaped parking lot that includes the site of the former Elks Lodge adjacent to the Marilyn Horne Hall will provide expanded parking.

While work has progressed on the first floor, commercial tenants will benefit from an upgraded heating, ventilation and air conditioning system that will be installed by the end of March. Tenants from outside the university rent 28 percent of the building. Rhett Kennedy, director of auxiliary services at Pitt-Bradford, said 4,668 square feet are still available for rent.

The Bradford construction company Carl E. Swanson and Sons is the general contractor for the $5.7 million project.

The building renovation and museum construction are being made possible in part through a $3 million grant from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program. Sen. Joe Scarnati, R-Brockway, and Rep. Marty Causer, R-Turtlepoint, were instrumental in helping Pitt-Bradford secure the grant through the McKean County Industrial Development Authority.

Horne, who is Bradford's most famous native daughter, was born in 1934. Her father, Bentz Horne, encouraged her to pursue her musical dreams. She moved with her family to Long Beach, California, when she was 11 and made her debut when she was 20 at the Los Angeles Opera Guild. Following her father's death in 1956 in Bradford, she traveled Europe, performing in many productions and receiving rave reviews.

Horne was considered one of the world's premiere mezzo sopranos for more than 40 years, becoming not only a star of the opera world, but also an ambassador to pop culture through appearances on “The Odd Couple,” “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson,” “Carol Burnett and Friends” and “Sesame Street.”