Ed Golterman is in a good mood. He's sitting in the lobby of the Frontenac Hilton, sifting through a stack of photographs, news clippings and press releases from his tireless -- some might say obsessive -- one-man campaign to reopen the Kiel Opera House. He leans back and takes off his blue baseball cap, with "Kiel Man" stitched across the front, and runs his fingers through his thin black hair.
"It's a joyous occasion," he says. "Coming from zero to reopening is an absolute joy."
For the last five years, Golterman has been the public face of efforts to revive the Kiel, which was closed in 1991 and has remained shuttered despite continual rumors and promises of its resurrection. He's written letters to newspapers, appeared on local television news, called radio talk shows and taken a historic exhibit about the Kiel to festivals, schools and shopping malls all over the metro area. In 2000, he walked from downtown St. Louis to the Columbia home of Bill and Nancy Laurie, the owners of the St. Louis Blues, to call attention to their neglect of the opera house adjacent to Savvis Center.
"In the past couple of years, he'd call up, and no matter what the subject was -- the pope's visit in 1999, the 2000 election in Florida, Monica Lewinsky -- Ed Golterman would call in and encourage everyone to keep the Kiel open," says Charles Brennan, a morning host on KMOX (1120 AM).
Now that developer Donald Breckenridge has announced plans for a $30 million renovation of the opera house and a deal with Clear Channel Entertainment and Fox Associates to book concerts and Broadway shows there, starting in the fall of 2004, Golterman is left wondering just what he'll do with himself. He'd like to stay involved with the Kiel now that it will be a functioning entertainment venue again.
"I've given everything for the last five years," Golterman says. He's "picked up a few bucks here and there" since he started his campaign, through concerts, lectures and as a freelance writer, but most of it, he says, has been spent on his Kiel efforts. "I need an income. I want a part, a role in the reopening of the Kiel Opera House and marketing it, flat-out."
But that isn't likely. Monica McFee, a spokeswoman for Breckenridge and a member of Kiel for the Performing Arts, a nonprofit organization formed in 1998 to reopen the opera house, says her boss has no plans to include Golterman.
"We talked about this," McFee says. "Ed is a good advocate for the Kiel, but he won't be involved in any way with the official process."
Golterman's affection for the old opera house runs deep. His grandfather, the opera impresario Guy Golterman, brought Enrico Caruso to St. Louis in 1910 and staged several operas here in the 1910s and '20s before the Kiel opened as the Municipal Auditorium in 1934. Guy Golterman produced some of the first operas at the Kiel during the two-week opening ceremonies, and the family has stayed active in the world of St. Louis opera. Ed Golterman is an accomplished baritone singer and sang the national anthem for the Blues for several years.
As personal as his connection to the Kiel is, however, the 64-year-old Golterman says he's not just trying to save his grandfather's legacy. A fully functioning multiuse venue for concerts, theater and community events -- what he and Breckenridge both envision as the fulfillment of the Kiel's promise -- will be, most important, an anchor for downtown as an entertainment district.
Golterman admits his efforts have often been abrasive -- particularly the e-mails and letters he's sent accusing city officials of a conspiracy with Fox Associates, the group that also runs the Fox Theatre, to keep the Kiel closed. (His letters are signed, with a flair appropriate for the scion of an opera family, "Edward L. Golterman, Founder Kiel for Performing Arts, Grandson of impresario Guy Golterman and leader in 5 year battle to save and reopen Kiel Opera House.")
"I've turned over a lot of rocks downtown," he says. "I'm not very popular."
Golterman, at least, is convinced that his showmanship kept the Kiel alive long enough for Breckenridge to make his deal. He's quick to share credit with Kiel for the Performing Arts, and he's pleased that Breckenridge has taken on the enormous task of renovating and reopening the opera house. But he also very clearly thinks of himself as the spearhead of Breckenridge's project. "Every day, I've been marketing the value of the Kiel Opera House and trying to fend off its attackers," he says. "Now they're following my plan every step of the way."
Some of the Kiel's supporters, though, think he's been too antagonistic and that his over-the-top style has drawn attention from more legitimate efforts on behalf of the opera house.
Kiel for the Performing Arts has kept a lower profile than Golterman -- who was a founding member -- since he left the group in 1999. In that time, though, its members got the Kiel named to the National Register of Historic Places, a move that prevented demolition or the possibility of a once-proposed parking garage inside the Kiel. Russell Carter, a member of the group, says their work behind the scenes, especially their negotiations with Breckenridge, were much more valuable to the Kiel's survival than Golterman's theatrics.
In the days following Breckenridge's announcement of the deal with Clear Channel and Fox Associates, on May 5, Golterman was already back to business. "I'll watch closely to make sure it's done right," he says. "If it's on the outside, fine."
In the voice of Kiel's resident opera phantom, Golterman last week fired off a characteristically combative letter to Mayor Francis Slay: "You have delivered me unto the hands of mine enemies, & not to the people of St. Louis.... My champion is at post.... You will detach Fox Associates -- my attackers -- from me immediately. I do not need Fox Associates to book anything here. Let them tend to their midtown business ... such as it is."
Golterman has maintained throughout his campaign that Fox Associates wanted to keep the Kiel closed in order to quash competition for big-scale live theater in St. Louis. He's disappointed that the group was selected by Breckenridge to book Broadway productions at the reopened Kiel and fears there's an inherent conflict in a single company's booking similar shows for two competing venues.
Rich Baker, president of Fox Associates, isn't worried. "I don't think it's a problem," Baker says. The Fox's Broadway calendar has been full for the last year, and he thinks the town will easily support two theaters. "It's an untapped market. Clear Channel isn't dumb. They've been doing this a long time."
Besides, Baker says, Golterman doesn't have a financial stake in the game. "I don't know why he's concerned if Clear Channel's not concerned. They have to make the bottom line work over there. He doesn't have any monetary interest in it."
But Golterman, over the last five years, has invested much of his life in saving the Kiel. Whether he's a fearless opponent of power, an irritating gadfly or an idealistic windmill-tilter may depend on which side you're on -- and there are plenty of sides around the old opera house.