Opera Houses of Old Wyoming

The years 1872 through 1909 in Wyoming's theatrical history may rightly be designated as the 'opera house era.' To distinguish between the bawdy, low-class places of entertainment that many theatres were at the time, it became common practice to call a town's foremost playhouse an Opera House and thus make it known that only socially-acceptable, legitimate theatre would be tolerated there. Several of the larger cities in Wyoming in the late 1800s had one or more opera houses, many of which never hosted opera performances. A mix of local talent and touring groups occupied their stages in the heyday of live entertainment. Among the variety of events taking place in the opera houses were dances, community meetings, graduations, political gatherings, performances by local actors or musicians, vaudeville acts, minstrels, lectures, roller skating, wrestling and boxing.

The transcontinental railroad that became the Union Pacific was completed in 1869. The railroad determined that growth and prosperity would be assured for the cities that sprang up along its tracks, and those cities would be the ones most likely to build an Opera House as a center for the social life of their citizens. Thus, during the 50-year deluge of touring entertainment, leading actors, opera companies, musicians, magicians and acrobats traveled across the southern tier of Wyoming, the best of which played in the opera houses of Cheyenne, Laramie, Rawlins, Rock Springs and Evanston.

Other cities and towns also had their opera houses but these would host mostly home-grown talent for entertainment and serve principally as community centers. Many were built primarily as lodges for fraternal organizations, such as the Elks, Odd Fellows, and Masons.

The opera houses cataloged here is not an exhaustive list of the opera houses of Wyoming. Rather, it is a listing of those for which a least some information could be found in an initial Internet search. The investigation will be continued in libraries and archives, as time and travel permit, and new discoveries of significance will be added from time to time.

Much of the accounts below is from Wyoming: a Guide to the History, Highways and People, by Federal Writer's Project of the Works Progress Administration or the State of Wyoming, 1941. Dating the opera houses in some cases is based on  when they appear in one of the Julius Cahn's Official Theatrical Guides.

Buildings that once were opera houses are to be found in Cheyenne, Laramie, Saratoga, Rawlins, Rock Springs, Kemmerer, Evanston, Buffalo and Sheridan.


Cheyenne

1872 Opera House

In 1872 a corporation was formed to build the Cheyenne Opera House, later called Recreation Hall, which seated 600. The scenery was painted by one Monsieur La Harte. This hall was used for professional plays, church benefits, lectures, concerts, and home-talent productions, and for three years was a competitor of the McDaniels Variety Theatre.  Then in 1876 the hall came under the management of McDaniels.  The Richings-Bernard Opera Company was the first major operatic group to visit Cheyenne. It gave five performances in 1877, including Martha, The Bohemian Girl, Il Trovatore, Maritana, and Fra Diavolo.  Later it was a roller-skating rink and in 1881 became a meat market.

1882 Opera House

Cheyenne1882

A number of prominent citizens, including Joseph M. Carey and Frances E. Warren, both of whom later served the state as Governor and United States senator, incorporated in 1882 and built the Opera House north of the corner of 17th and Capitol Avenue at a cost of $50,000. Its seating capacity was 1,000. The Comly-Barton Opera Company gave the opening performances, which were attended by by the elite of Wyoming and Colorado. A special train brought guests from Laramie, almost 60 miles over the mountains; and more than 50 persons came from Denver and Fort Collins. Each lady in the audience received a satin program, and after the first performance the Opera House management entertained at a complimentary ball in Library Hall. Cheyenne became a regular stop on the coast-to-coast tours of outstanding companies from Broadway. During the next 20 years leading actors, singers and musicians who toured over the Union Pacific System appeared in the Opera House in Cheyenne, including notables  Emma Nevada, Lily Langtry, Sarah Bernhardt, Helena Modjeska, Otis Skinner, Valeska Suratt and Paderewski. The Emma Abbott Grand English Opera Company played there a few times in the 1880s. The Hess Grand Opera Company with Abbie Carrington in Martha and Faust appeared in the Cheyenne Opera in 1883. Her Majesty's Royal Opera Company performed in 1884 and 1886. In 1890 the Emma Juch Grand Opera Company performed Gounod's Faust in English, as was the custom of the time. On December 8, 1902 a fire destroyed the auditorium and stage of the Cheyenne Opera House. In 1905 an annex was built on the site adjoining the remaining portion of the opera house. The two buildings were razed in 1961 to make way for a new J. C. Penny store..


1905 Capitol Avenue Theatre

In the left photograph below, the building to the far left is the opera house, the Capitol Avenue Theatre at 1607 Capitol Avenue. The one to the right is the Majestic Building at the corner of 16th and Capitol. Built in 1907, it became Cheyenne's premiere office space, with the First National Bank as the principal occupant. The photograph on the right is a restoration of the Capitol Avenue theatre building.

cheyenne2
cheyenne3

Following the 1902 fire that destroyed the 1882 Opera House, Cheyenne citizens formed a Citizens Committee to raise the necessary funds to build a new facility.  The Capitol Avenue Theatre Company was formed and through the issuance of stocks and bonds, the elected trustees were charged with building and maintaining a new opera house.  Early actions of this committee forbid the leasing of space to saloons.  Cheyenne's access to the railroad afforded patrons with the opportunity to attend theatre productions previously seen only in large cities.  In 1915 fire destroyed much of the stage, which could not be rebuilt in its original grandeur.  Remodeling in 1930 transformed the opera house into a movie house and it became the Paramount Theatre. In 1981 an arson fire destroyed all but the offices, retail space and the projection room.  Today a consignment boutique occupies the first floor.

Laramie

1887 Holliday Opera House


HollidayThe immense 4-story Holliday Building, on the east side of Second Street between Custer and Garfield Streets, took up most of the block and held a number of professionals’ offices including dentists, doctors and lawyers and sales rooms. The W. H. Holliday Company built an opera house in the third story of its store building in 1887. It was planned to open the Opera House with Wagner's Die Walküre, to be produced by home talent accompanied by a 40-piece orchestra. After the singers had been practicing for some time, however, acoustics proved so poor that the opera had to be postponed, and it was not produced until the following year in Ivinson Hall (built before 1884). This opera was repeated in 1895 in Maennerchor Hall (seating capacity in 1897 was 650). After a few entertainments the Holliday Opera House was condemned and closed because of inadequate beaming. In 1948, the town’s most devastating fire raged through the Holliday building, burning it to the ground along with a number of nearby buildings.


1894 Root's Opera House

root
root

In 1894 W. H. (Bill) Root bought the Blackburn Hall, which had been used as an assembling place for native wild animals-- deer, elk, bear and antelope that were being held for sale to estates in England and other foreign countries. After Root's death, his widow, Mrs. Helen Root, leased the building to a traveling medicine show, and the venture proved such success that the building was remodeled for a theater with Mrs. Root as manager. She ran the opera house until her death in 1927.  Its seating capacity was 625. Many of the seats in the new Root's Opera House sere purchased from the old Tabor Grand Opera House in Denver. Mrs. Root, known to the resident of Laramie as 'Sissy' Root, learned every phase of theater management, and hers was a familiar figure, with long brush an a paste bucket, atop a ladder and plank as she helped post bills. She was known to theatrical folks all overt the country as the first 'Woman Bill Poster.' One-week engagements were played at Root's Opera House by many touring companies in Uncle Tom's Cabin, East Lynne, and other popular plays. In its later years, the opera house became a movie theater. The building that was the opera house still exists at 207 South Third Street. The photograph on the left above is from 1927 and the one on the right in 2014.


1901 New Grand Opera House

Rebuilt in 1901. Seating capacity 700. William Marquardt manager (was manager of Cheyenne's Maennerchor Hall in 1897).


Hanna


???

The Opera House had dances, showed live shows and a roller skating rink was installed in 1913. In 1926, the opera house burned.


Saratoga

1900 Jensen Opera House

Saratoga

In 1900 Gus Jensen built the Jensen Music Hall. In 1902 it wass remodeled and the name was changed to Jensen Operfa House. In 1911 novie equipment was installed by the then owner, Emitt Johnson, and the place was referred to as Johnson's Movies. It became Legion Hall in 1928 and continued as a movie house and later called the Legion Theater. The building, located at 110 West Bridge St., still stands today. Currently the building is unoccupied and is for sale.


Rawlins

1880 Masonic Opera House
 
Located at the southwest corner of Cedar and 4th.  Burned in December 1935.


1884 Masonic Opera House

Rawlns 1884

The opera house, the third build building to the right in the photograph, was built by John Eugene Osborne, third governor of Wyoming. He became the mayor mayor of Rawlins in 1888. The hardware store shown in the photograph was located at the northwest corner of 5th and Cedar. The opera house had a seating capacity of 640.  It was destroyed by fire on October 16, 1906.



1909 Masonic Temple

Rawlimns Masonic
Following the burning of the 1880 Masonic Opera House, the new 1909 Masonic Temple at Pine and 4th served as the primary community center for Rawlins until the 1912 Opera House was built.


1912 Opera House

Rawlins 1912
About 1912 Charles H. Anderson built the Rawlins Opera House, "a thoroughly modern and up-to-date theater." It opened March 27, 1913. The opera house had a seating capacity of six hundred. In 1921 it became a movie house. The Fox corporation bought it in 1940. Through the 40' and 50's it continued as a movie theater and operated under different names. Its uses changed over the years and now is the home to several different businesses, including the Rawlins Music Academy and the state Parole Board. It stands at 214 4th St. in Rawlins.


Rock Springs

1889 Edgar Opera House


RockSprings
A sure sign that Rock Springs had matured from a mining camp to a real town was the construction (in 1889) of the city’s first opera house on the prominent corner of North Front and J Streets. The original building burned down, and was replaced by this two-story cut-stone structure in 1893. The seating capacity was  850. In 1911 the United Mine Workers Union took over the old Edgar Opera House, and renamed it the “Labor Temple.” The building still stands at  487 N Front and the lower floor houses a program for encouraging smokers to kick their habit.



Green River

1901
Opera House

Karl Spinner was the proprietor. The theatre was on the ground floor. Seating capacity 300.


Evanston

1885 Downs Opera House



Evanston

evanston2


The opera house in Evanston on the left as it originally appeared and on the right as it appears now.  Note that the pediment and banner pole has been removed and the first floor door and window arrangements have been modified. A property management concern occupies the first floor currently.

In 1885 Peter J. Downs built the opera house on Front Street at a cost of about $12,000. Its seating capacity was 700. The Theodore Lorch troupe, the Armin stock players, the Arlington Comedians, the Spooner Dramatic Company, and various other road companies played in Evanston during the next 15 years. The building was said to be fireproof and had a full basement, which was used as a skating rink. George Statler, a brother-in-law of Downs, painted the three curtains: the outer butterfly curtain, the scenic curtain, and the advertising curtain. This last curtain was the outstanding feature, with a painting of A. B. Beckwith's barn and racetrack in the center, edged by advertisements. The seats on the main floor were movable in order to permit dancing. Two lavishly decorated boxes flanked the graduated gallery seats. At the rear of the gallery was a long row of lockers, each bearing the name of a prominent local family. These lockers were retained permanently by each family so that wraps and valuables could be stored during entertainments. Around 1912 the country's first transcontinental automobile route, the Lincoln Highway, passed through the heart of downtown Evanston. Service stations, motels and garages sprang up to accommodate the traffic-- and the Downs Opera House was converted to the Transcontinental Garage in 1913. The building remained in operation as an automobile garage until the early 2000s.

Douglas

bef. 1906 Opera House


Cited in a 1906 boxing record.


Casper

1895 Opera House


At the meeting of the town council of the town of Casper, held the first part of April, 1890, it was decided that it was necessary to have a town hall, and accordingly plans and specifications were drawn for a building 25x74 feet. This was to be the first brick building to be built in the town. The building, finished during the summer of that year at a cost of $1,985, was located on the west side of Center street, between Second and First, in about the middle of the block, having a frontage of thirty feet and 140 feet deep. The town council at its meeting in January, 1895, decided to rearrange the town hall and make a first-class opera house out of it. The stage was to be brought forward several feet, a solid arch front put up and the footlight arrangement constructed after the most approved plan. A new drop curtain and a full set of scenery was to be added, doors cut from the back of the stage and a suite of dressing rooms built on the end of the hall. The new drop curtain depicted a mountain peak, a slough, with huge cat-tails along the edge, a large, lightning-splintered tree, and many other things. On the border were advertising signs of Casper's leading business and professional men. The Casper Dramatic Company, under the auspices of the Casper band, was at the time rehearsing several new plays which were to be put on as soon as the stage was ready. This hall was where nearly all the public gatherings were held and citizens met to discuss matters of public interest, hold political meetings, dances, church services and school sessions. The Chamber of Commerce met here and sessions of the district court were held here. Theater troupes, barnstormers and home talent companies performed on its stage. In 1910 moving pictures commenced to come to Casper and the town hall was rented for a moving picture house. It was then given the name of the Bell Theatre because there was a bell in the cupola on top of the front part of the building. Shortly after midnight on the 8th of January, 1912, fire broke out in this building and the roof and front part of the structure were destroyed. In the summer of that year the roof and the front were rebuilt and the building was remodeled into a fire house, with offices in the rear where the meetings of the town council were held, with living rooms upstairs.


Buffalo

1887 Opera House


buffalo 
Built in 1887, this building housed the Hasbrouck Haberdashery business. Later, Kube and Kennedy, a men’s clothing store was located here during the early 1900s. Also of import, this was the location of Buffalo’s first library and the second floor was used as an opera house. The building still stands at 22 South Main and houses American Outback Antiques.



Sheridan

1893 Cady Opera House


Sheridan


sheridan2

This elaborate and massive stone building with its Romanesque architecture was the Helvey Hotel and the Cady Opera House on the third floor, with a seating capacity 650. The Cady caught fire in the pre-dawn hours of October 7, 1906. The blaze destroyed the third floor and gutted the second. Ironically, the show playing at the time of the fire was entitled “The Runaway Match.” After the fire, the building was remodeled as a two-story structure. Many businesses have occupied the street level, such as a grocery store, the post office, and the temporary courthouse. Now the building at 302-321 North Main houses Sanford’s Grub Pub and Brewery.


bef. 1905 Kirby Opera House

The old Kirby Opera House was on the northeast corner of Gould and Brundage streets.  Seating capacity was 750.


Shoshoni

???


Opera House was two story with the theater on the second floor.


Thermopolis

1901 Broadway Opera House


The Ives Building (The Jewel Box) at 505 Broadway, Victorian commercial building, was constructed in 1901 by John McCoy. The upstairs was originally used as an opera house and the first floor was the bank and town hall. It is the most elaborate and second oldest in the Thermopolis Historic Main Street district. It is two-story, wood frame structure with a mail order pressed tin facade featuring an elaborate cornice set off by finials, paired brackets and a variety of frieze designs, repeated between the cornice and second story windows. The second story windows are set off by rounded pilasters with elaborate base and capitals. The first floor has been changed by the addition of a rock and glass storefront which was placed over the original transom and first floor facade which remains intact beneath.


Encampment

1902 Opera House


EncampmentIn 1902, the town constructed the Grand Encampment Opera House to provide a meeting place and a year later a stage to perform their famous plays. The grand building was constructed on log beams as the foundation and underwent lack of maintenance and poor construction of additions over the years. In 2008 the toown undertook a project to renovate the facility and preserve its historical appeal, rather than demolish it and build a replica. With that in mind a careful assessment of the facility was made. During the process, the guiding committee decided that the project would include preservation of the Bell Tower, the historical signature walls, the stage area and the main hall. All of this plus the remainder of the facility underwent extensive rebuild after the demolishing phase revealed structural problem if left intact.

Cambria

1898 Opera House


In 1898 the Opera House was erected and opened the first time to welcome home the boys who had served in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War. Among the first performers at the Opera House were Jonnie and Della Pringle, who returned year after year for one-week stands. The Georgia Minstrels with Billy Kersands also played there. One of the most popular productions given at the Opera House was Faust, which was read, not sung. Sometimes the traveling troupes used home talent to complete their cast and thus became well acquainted with the local residents. One time, while a company was playing in Cambria, a daughter was born to the wife of the manager. She was at once named Cambria and was treated by the residents as a royal princess. Cambria had its beginning in 1887. Its purpose was to supply coal to the western lines of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad. They built a reservoir, constructed more than 150 miners' homes, two churches, a school, a lodge hall, a three story hotel, a recreation hall, a bank, a courthouse, and company offices. By 1928 the coal deposits were no longer sufficient to economically mine. Cambria was abandoned and rapidly fell into ruin. On December 31, 1928, the post office which had been established in 1890 was discontinued. Today little more is visible except the street patterns.


Superior

1909 Opera House


July 1909 marked the birth of one of the greatest buildings in Superior’s history. The massive building which consisted of a kitchen, stage, dance floor belfry and several other smaller rooms, was erected by the Union Pacific Coal Company to occupy the needs of Superior’s population. One of the most important uses was that of a basketball court for the Superior Dragons, who did not have a gymnasium of their own. The large area, the dance floor, was more than enough for the exciting games. The enthused throngs crowded onto the stage and sidelines to watch the thrilling games, against A class teams, such as Rock Springs, Rawlins and Kemmerer. The play by play account was broadcast from the belfry tower which overlooked the entire building. Because of its outstanding performance in play acting and opera, the structure soon got the name, “Opera House.”  In 1944 the Opera House became a roller skating rink. It was run by Earl and Bob Pittam. The Opera House met its final day on January 7, 1962 at 1:05 when it caught fire. The starting of the fire was the electric wires in the roof. When the air got to it the whole building went up in flames. The Superior and Rock Springs Fire Departments were called to fight and keep it under control. The Opera House was too far gone to try to save. The heat was so intense that it melted TV antennas and scorched buildings around it.  


Lusk

abt. 1886 Fraternal Hall and Opera House


Lusk
The building burned.










Newcastle

1901 Opera House


Seating capacity 500.


Gilette

???
Morgan's Opera House


The theater was on the second floor. It seated 281.


Kemmerer

1897 Opera House


kemmerer

kemerer2

The Opera Saloon, built in 1897, was the first dance hall in Kemmerer. It was originally known as Keenan's Opera House, then Opera House, and later Casey's Opera House. The saloon was on the first floor, and the dance hall and theater was on the second. There were minstrel shows, plays and programs showcasing local talent. School students would perform plays for the parents and the community. On Saturday nights, a dance was held with the music coming from local bands. In the spring of 1902, the Kikapoo Indian Medicine Show entertained, and in October 1902 a 20-round boxing match was held. Note that a window now opens between the original two windows on the second floor. The first floor of the opera house is now the Mandarin Garden restaurant.

The opera house was next to the Golden Rule Store, John Cash Penny's second location for his store, which dates from 1908. The first Penny store, a wooden, false fronted structure burned a few years ago. The building shown here was occupied until a third location in Kemmerer was built in 1929, the "Mother Store" of the J. C. Penny company, which continues in business today.



Go to Top of Page