By Angela Underwood
Express staff writer
Rhonda Pope Flores refuses to let communal worship and gatherings cease in Winters, hence the Grand Prince Odeum on 201 Main St.
After more than a year of opening delays since purchasing the building in December 2020, the new business owner officially unlocked the century-old doors on July 23. It was worth the wait, according to Flores, who fell in love with the edifice the first time she saw it. However, she adored more than just the building’s architecture. She loved its history. Researching the two-story location before the big purchase gave Flores the idea for its new use: keep it the same.
“I wanted to find out what happened here, and I stumbled across a report that described it as a social hub and place of worship,” she said. “It’s always been a church, and I didn’t want to take away from that. In fact, I wanted to bring that back.”
Thousands of dollars in renovations later, including interior and exterior paint, refurbished rails and panels, and a state-of-the-art sound system, sounds of praise ring again at the Grand Prince Odeum. Flores rents out space to the Center for Spiritual Living at 10 a.m. Sundays, and then hosts some Pentecostal praise with Rock Church’s service at 1 p.m.
“The worship and the positivity are definitely what we need since we are in crazy times,” she said.
While remaining true to the building’s original church purpose, Flores added some fun to the mission-style building by flaring it up with a purple art-deco theme in honor of one of her favorite performer, Prince, who helped inspire the new name. Flores also hosts less formal events at the Grand Prince Odeum, including the Fortnightly Club parties she likes to call “tea sessions.”
The Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center out of Winters High School has already held two meetings at the location, and the Winter Theater Company contacted Flores about performing plays on-site. The local interest in the facility is exactly what Flores was hoping for, especially after the not-so-royal deal she went through with the city of Winters to get a building use ordinance.
“The city cost us a lot of money and a lot of time to finally admit the building did fall under non-conforming use,” Flores said. “Unfortunately, I had to hire legal counsel to get them to admit what they knew all along.”
The long process that drew media attention was a “banality of bureaucracy in all its glory,” according to resident Richard Casavecchia.
“We claim we want to encourage growth downtown, in theory,” Casavecchia wrote in an Express opinion piece. “But now we have someone who has invested considerable time and real money to bring a new feature to our city, and we’re preventing that with zoning which has never matched its actual use and likely never will.”
The building use ordinance created “a year of anxiety and misinformation,” according to resident Valarie Whitworth, who attended the Grand Prince Odeum opening in July. The local expressed herself in last week’s Winters Express, calling the event “a slice of musical history in a historic building,” bedecked with balloons and a photo booth.
Whitworth said the walls rang with 1930s tunes sung by the Yolo Ramblers and a great time was had by all who were offered “a warm welcome, good entertainment, and a feeling of community.”
City officials did not broadcast the same sentiments. Mayor Wade Cowan said he could not comment on the Grand Prince Odeum grand opening at this time under the direction of the city attorney. But past hurts will not stop Flores from being a good neighbor, she said. She stressed the importance of adhering to the noise ordinance and keeping the hours of operation at 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday-Friday and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Flores is confident Grand Prince Odeum will continue to offer endless community opportunities in the future, including wedding events like her own. Since renewing her vows in May at the Main Street location, she’s been approached by a young bride-to-be.
“I had a granddaughter of a Winters resident who was married there in the 50s, and she said I want to get married here just like my grandma did,” Flores said. “That’s what I want; I want the traditions to continue.”
Flores respect for church, history, architecture, and community give new purpose to the Grand Prince Odeum that is now alive again with worship and fun.
“We know that it is a change,” Flores said, adding the Main Street location purchase was never about money but about the building. “If you leave buildings unattended and do not care for them, they fall apart, and we don’t want that to happen to this building because we love it.”