Situated in downtown St. Louis, the Peabody Opera House is a 3,500-seat historic theater that has hosted the likes of Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, and the Rolling Stones. The Art Deco building, formerly known as the Kiel Opera House, was originally constructed in 1934 and operated continuously until it closed in 1991. Thanks to a recent $78.7-million restoration project, the Peabody Opera House has been returned to its former glory and is once again a popular performance attraction.
“One of the major updates to the structure was a $6.5-million state-of-the-art electrical system,” says Mike Murphy, vice president of operations for Fenton, Mo.-headquartered Kaiser Electric, the electrical contractor that installed not only the building’s new electrical distribution system, but also a general lighting system, fire alarm system, and an estimated $1.3 million theatrical lighting system.
“The facility contains a main theater, four smaller venues, and numerous other spaces — all of which had to be tied to a central lighting control and dimming system that could be controlled or managed from multiple places throughout the facility,” explains Kaiser Electric President Steve Giacin.
According to Giacin, this proved challenging, because the historical integrity of the building, such as original plaster walls and moldings, had to be maintained while modernizing the electrical systems to meet present-day Code requirements.
“We had to get creative when working in the areas of historical significance, especially when it came to the fire alarm installation,” notes Murphy. “Sometimes that meant having to go up or down a floor or two.”
Preserving the building’s historic facets also dictated what types of energy-saving electrical features could be used.
“In the front of house and other public areas, we kept as many of the original luminaires as possible, which meant we had to stay with incandescent lamps,” Murphy says. “But behind the scenes, all the lamps have been changed to T5 or T8 fluorescents, or LEDs. We also installed occupancy sensors throughout the entire opera house, including the restrooms.”
One of the biggest energy savings resulted from removing the old dimming system and replacing it with a new one, says Murphy.
“The original system was located in the main theater and measured approximately the size of a small delivery truck,” he notes. “You don’t see many of those anymore.”
Furthermore, Kaiser Electric installed an outdoor back-up generator for egress lighting and the elevators. The contractor also assisted in the design and installation of LED color-shifting light fixtures in the large center dome located in the main theater.
“Installing the lighting in the dome was very difficult,” says Giacin. “Some of the fixtures had to be inserted, secured, and wired through handholes that were approximately 6 in. by 6 in. and located 2 ft to 3 ft apart.”
Despite the project’s unique challenges, the electrical installation, which began in June 2010, finished on schedule this past August and within budget. At peak construction, Kaiser Electric employed up to 31 electricians on the Peabody Opera House Project.