Uneven Kiel

Local Quixote Ed Golterman tilts at civic windmills in his quest to rehabilitate Kiel Opera House

Even before the age of voice mail and fax machines, Ed Golterman did not hesitate to make his annoyances known. For example, when the touring company of Les Misérables came to the Fox Theatre in 1989, Golterman provided a list of "negative stats" to the Post-Dispatch: "123 measurable audience coughs and 14 measurable sneezes during Act I and 119 measurable coughs and 24 measurable sneezes during Act II." "Measurable" is defined as "loud enough to pull your attention from the performance," although "nose blowing is not included because a muffling device, like Kleenex, limits the sound."

Whether gods or devils may be found in the details, Golterman can be found there as well. When the P-D gave the date of the building of the Muny as 1918, Golterman supplied them with a correction, 1917.

Whatever may or may not be done with Kiel Opera House, the renovation of which has been Golterman's unwavering two-year crusade, there should be space for an archive of letters, faxes and voice messages Golterman has sent to media and political and business leaders. Mention his name, and most of those who have encountered him roll their eyes or refer to "that crazy man." If pugnacity is a virtue, he will be among the saints. He has the incessant drive of a fullback, as his square build implies, and in his speech there is no hint of doubt or uncertainty. He's confident in his righteous appeal, and once he has someone's ear, he begins to exhibit a sly conspiratorial grin.

Golterman possesses the thin skin of the noble classes, to which, in terms of the performing arts in this city, he has some claim through blood right: "My grandfather (Guy Golterman) was a contracts attorney that helped give us the Coliseum in 1910. He brought Caruso and the Met here. It was a very successful stop for the Met. Then he was instrumental in building the Muny, and he dedicated it with Aida in 1917. Then he and (then-Mayor) Henry Kiel and others gave us the Opera House, and he brought the world's greatest opera stars to the Kiel in the '30s."

Ed Golterman's father worked as an administrative assistant to four St. Louis mayors. His mother was a noted soprano who sometimes sang at the Opera House. His reminiscences of the former performing-arts center are akin to the description of a shrine: "You did not need to overamplify. You could hear pure voice. You could hear pure instrument. You could hear an orchestra without all the amplification. So you heard wonderful sound, and you were close.

"It had a huge stage. I remember the orchestra pit rising with the musicians on it -- that was very thrilling. I graduated there. It seemed to me people were at peace there."

Growing up in a musical family, Golterman developed a pleasing baritone of his own, performing in St. Louis with groups such as the Ed Golterman Trio and, most notably, singing the national anthem before Blues games for 21 years, from the team's inception in 1967 until 1988. He must have been a memorable opener, for as recently as 1997, during one of the Blues' dull spots, the Post's Bernie Miklasz suggested bringing Golterman back: "He can get the crowd going."

Despite his deep ancestral roots, Golterman took a hiatus from the city and lived in Washington, D.C., for two years. He's made his living "in the marketing and training communications field for years. I've had my own company. I've served as a consultant. I write, produce and direct marketing and training films and videos. I've worked for Monsanto, Shell, Anheuser, etc. Before that, I was in radio and television, news and sports, and I've always been involved in theater and in music."

In D.C., Golterman frequented beyond-the-Beltway piano bars, especially La Canard in Vienna, Va. "La Canard was a joy. There were 20-30 people in there who would all sing, and none of them were professionals. They all had a great time. The camaraderie -- what live music does is pretty well unmatched by any other experience."

In 1995 he joined the Elden Street Players' production of Sweeney Todd, playing Judge Turpin, the character on whom Sweeney vows vengeance for the rape of his wife. In a Washington Post review, Golterman's portrayal received the accolade "piously sadistic."

Meanwhile, back in St. Louis, the Kiel Center Partners, who offered to renovate the Opera House as part of a deal with the city for the demolition of the old Kiel Auditorium, reneged on that promise, arguing that the $2.5 million they had spent on "stabilizing" the facility was all they were really required to do. Unluckily for them, Golterman's East Coast fling was coming to an end.

When Golterman returned in 1998, he was alarmed to find the monument to his ancestors endangered. "I, like others, thought it was going to open when they said they were going to reopen it. I came back, and I looked at the lineup of something called the Urban Land Institute Task Force. I saw 26 of the people on there who were absolute enemies of the Kiel Opera House and would want it gone. These were people from Grand Center, the Fox, their attorneys, their PR people, board members and Kiel Partners and Civic Progress. I saw a stacked deck against the Opera House, terribly stacked.

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