Colorado's Historic Opera Houses

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Central City posterFrom about 1870 until 1920, entertainment and civic events in most of the cities and towns of Colorado were centered in what were called "opera houses."  Approximately 150 "opera house" were built in Colorado between 1860 and 1920.  (For a complete accounting of these opera houses see the Houses page.)  Fire destroyed several, including, in 1907, the 1897 Grand Opera House in Cripple Creek, and, in 1922, the splendid 1890 Grand Opera House in Pueblo.  As tastes in entertainment changed, many of the opera houses fell into disrepair and were demolished.  The 1881 Tabor Grand Opera House in Denver was one of them.  It was razed in 1964.  The sites occupied by many of the old opera houses became automobile parking lots. 

Forty six survivors, or approximately one-third of the old opera houses, have been identified at present, but of these most have been so much remodeled and renovated that virtually nothing of the original remains.  Primarily, they now are commercial properties or housing.  Only a few still serve their original purpose.  Assembled here is a compendium of 29 Colorado structures that retain at least some of the original features from when they were serving as opera houses.  Not included here is the 1875 Cushman Opera House in Georgetown for, although the first and second story of the building stand today, the third floor, where the opera house was located, was removed several years ago.  Also omitted is the 1908 Denver Auditorium, which served as the de facto opera house for Denver after the Broadway Theatre and Tabor Grand Opera House was demolished, and today houses the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, for that structure is profiled in depth in the nearby exhibition, Opera House.

Following is a map showing the names and locations of the cities where these surviving opera houses can be found.  Below the map is an alphabetical listing of the cities, which are linked to the opera houses that are listed chronologically by date of construction.  When driving around Colorado, plan to pay a visit to these historic relics from our colorful past.

Colorado Map

Antonita   Aspen   Brush   Buena Vista   Center   Central City (Belvidere)   Central City (Opera House)  
Colorado City   Craig   Cripple Creek   Denver   Grover   Gunnison   Idaho Springs    La Jara   Leadville  
Longmont   Loveland (Bartholf)   Loveland (Odd Fellows)   Manassa   Mancos    Manitou Springs  
Monte Vista   Ouray   Salida   Telluride   Trinidad (Jaffa)   Trinidad (West)   Windsor  


1875 Belvidere Theatre, Central City

Central City BelivdereH. M. Teller and Judge S. B. Hahn sponsored the construction of a brick building to house the town armory. The second floor was a theatre, the Belvidere, which was equipped with plain oak chairs, a stage and seven sets of scenery. In 1877 Balfe's opera, The Bohemian Girl, was performed there. The structure later became a stable with a feed and coal store, then home to the Central Bottling Works, the Fire Department, the Colorado militia, the Central City Garage and dealership, and a basketball court and recreation center.

The City of Black Hawk and Central City a few years ago joined forces to develop the Belvidere Theatre into a regional community theatre. However, little has been done to preserve or restore this historically-significant relic and it remains sadly in forlorn disrepair.



1878 Central City Opera House

Central City

The Central City Opera House was built with funds raised by a citizens' group interested in bringing cultural opportunities to the area, the Gilpin County Opera House Association. The two-story Renaissance Revival style stone building is the oldest surviving and first permanent opera house in Colorado. Between 1910 and 1927, the building functioned as a motion picture theater. Donated to the University of Denver in 1931, the building was restored by the Central City Opera House Association to serve as a venue for an ongoing summer opera program. See this History page at the Central City Opera website for details about this historic structure.




1879 Tabor Opera House, Leadville

Leadville Tabor
The Tabor Opera House, the third and grandest opera house in Leadville, built by Horace Tabor, opened November 20, 1879. Tabor lost it in the 1893 silver crash. It was revived as the Weston Opera House, but later failed financially, and then the Elks Lodge acquired and remodeled the building as a theater and meeting hall in 1901. Purchased in 1955 by her mother, Evelyn E. Livingston Furman became sole owner of the opera house after her mother's death in 1965. The current owners are Sharon and Bill Bland; Sharon is the daughter of Evelyn.

The opera house, a Leadville landmark and largely still intact, is used for plays, concerts and operas. A grant  from Colorado’s State Historical Fund made possible a Historic Structure Assessment Study of the building in 2002. See the Tabor Opera House website for more information.



1881 Dickens Opera House, Longmont

Longmont Dickens
The Dickens Opera House is a designated historic landmark, located at the corner of 3rd and Main, above the Third Avenue Grill. The public entrance at 302 Main Street opens to wide stairs that ascend to the second floor opera house. The auditorium had a seating capacity of 850. The stage and proscenium are still intact. A stage door opens onto 3rd Street. The opera house is now the home of the Flatirons Opera Company. Pop music groups perform on weekends.





1882 Jaffa Opera House, Trinidad

Jaffa TrinidadBuilt by Jewish merchant brothers, Sol, Henry and Sam Jaffa, at the corner of Main and Commercial. Upstairs was the 700-seat opera house beneath an oval stained-glass skylight. To get to the auditorium of the Opera House patrons climbed the wide staircase located in the middle of the front of the building on Main Street. The Trinidad Opera House was added to McCourt's Southern Circuit in 1887. The commercial theater aspect of the building gave way to the West Theater which opened in 1908. The last curtain at the Opera House fell in 1909. The upstairs opera house has been divided and converted into apartments. The ground floor has always been commercial space.


1882 Smith Opera House, Gunnison

Gunnison Smith
The former Smith Opera House is located at 114 N. Boulevard. It operated for only 2 years as an entertainment facility; it closed during the winter of 1885-86 and soon after was remodeled and became the Grand Apartments. More recently it was renovated to become a modern office building.









1882 Turnhalle Opera House, Denver

Denver Turnhalle
The West Denver Turnhalle Opera House, also known as Vorkwaert's Turnhalle, was built by Max Melsheimer in 1882 as part of his brewery, in the 1300 block of 10th St., which later became the Tivoli Brewery and is today within the Student Center complex of Metro State University, largely in original state. (There may have been a second West Denver Turnverein meeting hall built in 1893 at 133 12th St.; it no longer exists.) The opera house is used for university and public events and a church holds services there on Sundays.





1884 Bartholf Opera House, Loveland

Loveland Bartholf
The Bartholf also was known as the A & B, which was derived from the names of the men who built the house, E. S. Allen and Frank Bartholf. The house, seating 400, had 12 sets of scenery and an elegant drop curtain that was ordered from Chicago. In the 1890's the building's exterior was extensively remodeled and again in 1925 when the opera house closed and was converted into steam-heated apartments. Additional remodelings occurred in the late 1930's and 40's. For a time it was the Arcadia Hotel. It is located on the southwest corner at 4th and Cleveland.






1888 Wright's Opera House, Ouray

Ouray Wright

The opera house, on the second floor, has a seating capacity of 500. Businesses were on the first floor. It is listed in the 1908 Cahn's Official Theatrical Guide. The Mesker Brothers cast iron facade is still in good condition. For many years after the mining bust and subsequent end of performances it was used as a multi-use building for presentations and community events. Around the year 2000 it was converted into a movie theater which operated until late 2006.  In 2010 the opera house was purchased by the non-profit Friends of the Wright Opera House following a 3-year campaign to save the opera house and now is to be preserved and renovated. It will continue in use as a community cultural center during the make-over. See the Wright Opera House for scheduled activities and programs there. Tours of the opera house will be offered beginning Summer 2012.



1889 Wheeler Opera House, Manitou Springs

Wheeler Manitou SpringsJerome B. Wheeler, one of Colorado's great financiers, mining barons and generous benefactor, who also built the Wheeler Opera House in Aspen (see next), erected the building in 1888-1889 as a detached, three-story structure with extensive brick and stonework. On opening day, a bank shared the ground floor with a dry goods store, nine offices were on the second floor. One early tenant was African-American boxer George Philip's school for physical culture. The third floor with its 15' ceilings housed the town's first true opera house, Wheeler Hall, which held minor dramatics and balls. During the 1893 Silver Panic, the Wheeler Banking Company defaulted, as did many financial institutions.

Peter MacFarlane, who built the Central City Opera House, was the contractor for Wheeler Hall. In about 1900, the building was converted into a small hotel and was known as the Nyoda and then the El Parque. After serving as apartments for many years, new owners restored and preserved its historic character in 1975. It now houses businesses and living quarters.



1889 Wheeler Opera House, Aspen

Aspen WheelerJerome B. Wheeler, a wealthy investor in Aspen mining properties, originally from New York but then living in Manitou Springs where he had built a bank and opera house combination (see next above), built a fine home and, in 1889, the Hotel Jerome and the Wheeler Block (The Wheeler Opera House Building). The Opera House was on the third floor. The Gala Grand Opening of the Wheeler Opera House on April 23 and 24, 1889, featured a performance by Conried's English Comic Opera Co. of The King's Fool. Also on the bill was a tantalizing performance by a group of Viennese lady fencers. The Wheeler was a member of the Silver Circuit. By 1909 the Wheeler had become a motion picture house. In 1912 two mysterious fires destroyed much of the building. A series of renovations and restorations have taken place starting in 1949. The Wheeler now is Aspen's premiere performing arts center and the home of summer operas by the Aspen Music Festival.



1889 Salida Opera House

Salida Opera House
The Salida Opera House was one of the principal members of Peter McCourt's Silver Circuit. Cahn's Theatrical Guides for 1896 and 1898 list the seating capacity as 650. The opera house, substantially altered in 1920 when it became a movie theater, retained its balustraded balconies. Until 2007 it was the Unique movie theater, with two shops on the street front, at 129 W. 1st Street. The upstairs hall was used by the local Masonic order. Previous owner John Groy had considered the possibility of a historical restoration, but the new owner obtained permission to demolish the building except for the facade. When that owner encountered financial difficulties, the city of Salida assumed responsibility for the building. The renovation process currently appears to be stalled and the fate of this historic gem is in limbo.


1894 Broadway Opera House, Monte Vista

Monte Vista BroadwayThe Broadway Opera House is appropriatley located on Broadway, at southwest corner of 2nd Avenue. An item in the Creede Candle, 29 June 1894, about a Masonic convention there, dates the building as pre-1894. In Cahn's Theatrical Guide for 1896 it is called Broadway Armory; in the Guide for 1898 it is called Broadway Opera House; in the 1908 Guide as Broadway Opera House and Rink. Seating capacity was 600. It is listed in the 1911 city directory thusly: A. M. Isbell mgr., and the 1913/14 city directory, C. I. Day mgr. The building was renovated in the 1930s and became a mortuary, which continues as its present use (now Strohmayer's Funeral Home).


1895 La Jara Opera House

La Jara Opera House


Built on the southeast corner of Main St. and the Alamosa-Antonito highway as the Johnson Warehouse, the upper floor was a large room with a stage at the south end. Traveling shows, dances, parties, plays and public meeting took place here. In 1922 George Fleischman rented the opera house and operated it as a movie theater and was called the Paramount Theater. The second-floor opera house, as well as the first floor, are now apartments.



1896 Butte Opera House, Cripple Creek

Butte Opera HouseThe Butte Concert and Beer Hall premiered in 1896. Some time later the theater re-premiered as the Butte Opera House under the management of D.R. McArthur.The opera house then began a series of makeovers: it became the Butte Hall Dancing Academy, followed by The Watt Brothers Furniture Company, back to a theatre (under the name Teller Hall,) a skating rink, a secondhand store, an armory, an auto garage, the Cripple Creek Auto Company, and eventually fell into disuse, serving as a storage facility for the fire department located below. Early in 1999, the city of Cripple Creek began extensive renovations to refurbish the Butte with fresh paint, Victorian-era wallpaper, and period chandeliers. When final renovations were completed on the Butte Opera House in 2000, the summer melodrama that played for 60+ seasons in the Imperial Hotel moved to the Butte. The renovated house hosts melodramas by the Cripple Creek Players plus movies and local plays.


1897 Craig Opera House

Craig Opera House
This building is Craig's second opera house. The first, built about 1891, burned in 1896. The present one is on the west side of Russell St., between Victory Way and 6th St. The building was dedicated on Janury 1, 1897. Presently it is owned by a plumbing and heating business.







1901 Waycott Opera House, Colorado City

Colorado City WaycottThe Waycott Building's first occupants were the First National Bank, Stewart & Tiger Bicycles in the basement, and the Waycott Opera House on the second floor. The third floor, billed as "the best dance floor in the state," was the W. O. W. Hall. The Waycott Building's street address at 431 Colorado changed to 2432 West Colorado in 1917. In later times, Mack's Ice Cream, where ice cream and candy were made and sold in the parlor, was in the basement, the Idle Hour Theater (vaudeville and, later, cinema) was on the first floor, the opera house remained on the second and the third floor was a meeting place for various city lodges. Opera patrons accessed a side entrance on 25th Street and went up a flight of stairs to purchase tickets before entering the double doors to the theatre. The building survived a fire in December 2002 with only water and smoke damage, while four buildings to the east of it were completely destroyed. The Meadow Muffins bar and restaurant are on first floor, Producers Group Studios are on second floor where opera house used to be, and the third floor has offices.


1902 Windsor Opera House

Windsor Opera House
Located at 205 4th Street, the second floor of this two-story building was the opera house. In 1905 it was sold to the Masons and became their lodge. The brick building has been covered with stucco, except for the front of the first story. The lower floor houses two businesses. Now a private residence, an outside covered stair on the south side of the building leads to the former opera house.








1902 Knearl Opera House, Brush

Brush Opera House
Built by Brush pioneer, William Knearl (1855-1947), the two-story red brick building, with a full basement, is the largest in Brush. Excavation and the footing were done in March, 1902 and the building was completed on July 20, 1902. Knearl Hall was on the upper floor where dances and school graduation ceremonies were held. The lower floor contained the post office and Kneral's Mercantile Store, a supply point on the old Texas-Montana Cattle Trail that followed Beaver Creek Valley through Brush. Currently called the Cattlemen's Inn, there is a tavern downstairs and rooms to let upstairs, where the auditorium once was. The address is 101 Clayton St.



1903 Loveland Opera House (Odd Fellows Opera House)

Loveland IOOF
Several Colorado newspapers carried this story: "The handsome new opera house at Loveland was opened on the night of October 4th [1903], the play being "On the Hills of California." The seating capacity is about 900." The 1904 City Directory lists the opera house as being at 317-323 4th Streett The first floor has been commercial space with many tenants, the most enduring having been J. C. Penny from about 1914 to 1959. It once housed the Majestic Theatre. The building, at 319 4th Street, is now owned by the Loveland Lodge of the I.O.O.F. Currently it is being renovated to restore the facade to its original appearance. The auditorium is on the second floor; the third story windows are in the balcony level.







1907 Manass Opera House

Manassa Opera House
The Manassa Opera House was restored in 1988. It is on 4th Street, west of the Mormon Church. The opera house still serves as a community center for the small town of Manassa and surrounding communities.








1908 West Opera House, Trinidad

Trinidad West Opera houseOriginally named West Opera House for its owner, Ed West, a Trinidad, Colorado, businessman, this Rococo-style theater with remarkable twin balconies, was designed by I.H. & W.M. Rapp, Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado's leading architects between about 1895 and 1920. Ground was broken on February 17, 1907, and the theater opened on March 16, 1908. In 1911, silent movies were introduced in conjunction with vaudeville. The Sonora Grand Opera Co. presented Rigoletto, Il Trovatore and Lucia di Lammermoor in 1920. In September 1925, a Wurlitzer-Hope Jones theatre organ was installed. The name was changed to Fox-West in 1929 and then to Fox in 1942. It was purchased in 1959 by John, Marie and Sallie Sawaya. Movies are shown seven nights a week. It located at 423 W. Main. The Fox has a listing on the Cinema Treasures website.

1910 Center Opera House

CenterAn item in the San Juan Prospector of Del Norte for December 17, 1910, p. 2, mentions a meeting held at the Center Opera House. It is listed in  F. A. McKinney's San Luis Valley City Directory 1913-1914 as being in the Bank Block, N. C. Gilbreath manager. In addition to managing the opera house, Newton C. Gilbreath is listed as president and manager of the Center Mercantile Co., suggesting that the lower floor was the business that supported the second floor opera house. Located on the southwest corner of Worth and 3rd, the lower floor of this two-story building is a Big R Store. The upper floor, which was the opera house, is closed and not in use.

1910 Mancos Opera House

Mancos Opera House
Constructed by A. J. Ames and George Woods, the two-story, red brick structure was completed on March 1, 1910. The upper part of the building is the theater portion. The building appears to be three stories high, but the second-floor auditorium is two stories high. The 'third story' windows one sees from the outside are in the balcony on the south and west sides of the theater. Stabilization work enabled the performance venue upstairs to be opened on a limited basis for public events in spring 2004. For the first time in decades, school plays and the junior prom were held there, as well as concerts, Mardi Gras celebrations and other performances.

One of the larger and more substantial buildings in Mancos. It is located in the heart of Mancos on Grand Avenue, on the north side of the first block west of Grand's intersection with Main Street. The ground floor of the building is the home of the Mancos Veterans of Foreign Wars.



1910 Orpheum, Buena Vista


Buena Vista Orpheum

This cinder block building at 411 East Main is the largest single structure on Main Street, except for the courthouse. It once held the Orpheum Theatre upstairs and the Lincoln Garage downstairs. The building, now on the state Register of Historic Buildings, was purchased by John M. Cogswell in 1994. With funds from the Colorado State Historical Society, the structural aspects of the Theater have been renovated and the property is to be deeded to the Orpheum Theater, Inc., a non-profit organization which presently has control of the Theater. Several businesses now occupy the first floor.



1911 Antonita Opera House

Antonita

"Antonito Opera House, Antonito Amusement Co props, J D Frazey mgr." is a listing in the 1911 Gazetteer Publishing Company's Business Directory for Antonito. The Feb 3, 1911, issue of the Alamosa Journal has an item mentioning a dance at the Antonito Opera House. It is listed in F. A. McKinney's San Luis Valley City Directory 1913-1914. The former opera house now is the Golden Nugget Night Club.






1912 Idaho Spring Opera House

Idaho Springs



This former opera house is located at 1535 Miner. After its days as an opera house, the building became a movie theater, then an antique mall, and now shops and an office.










1913 Sheridan Opera House, Telluride

Telluride Sheridan Opera house
The 240-seat theater, built by the Telluride miners, opened as a moving picture show, vaudeville theater and community center. Originally called the Segerberg Theatre, it was later dubbed the Sheridan Opera House, as it was built next to the posh New Sheridan Hotel. Performers such as Lillian Gish and Sarah Bernhardt have graced the stage. In 1991 Sandra Carradine, founder of the Sheridan Arts Foundation, saved the opera house from demolition. It now is the home for concerts, plays, and movies.

 


1914 Grover Opera House

Grover Opera house


The Grover Opera House is one of only three remaining original buildings on the main street of Grover. The building now houses the Grover Regional Library.