Central City Opera House
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Central City Opera House
The Opera House in 1982
|Location||Eureka St., Central City, Colorado|
|Area||1 acre (0.40 ha)|
|NRHP Reference #||73000474|
|Added to NRHP||January 18, 1973|
In 1877, the citizens of Central City organized a fundraising drive for a grand new opera house befitting the gold mining town's reputation as "the richest square mile on earth." Many of the town's residents were Welsh and Cornish miners, who brought with them a rich tradition of music from their homeland. While locals pitched in during construction, the organizers also retained some of the best building professionals in the area. Denver architect Robert S. Roeschlaub provided an elegant, understated design for the stone structure, and San Francisco artist John C. Massman added elaborate trompe l'oeil murals to the interior. A creek flows through a flume under the Opera House.
The early glory years following the 1878 grand opening were short-lived. Musical and theatrical events appeared on its stage; Buffalo Bill performed here as well as P. T. Barnum’s circus. When the Central City mines were played out, the Opera House fell into disrepair.
In 1929 a dedicated band of Denver preservationists and music lovers formed the Central City Opera House Association and went to work to turn the spotlights back on. A volunteer-driven effort led by Ida Kruse McFarlane, Edna Chappell and Anne Evans led to an extensive restoration of the Opera House in 1932. That summer, actress Lillian Gish opened the newly restored opera house with Camille, launching an annual tradition of summer festivals in Central City that continues to this day.
Maintenance of the building again declined after the 1950s. In the 1980s and 1990s, the entire structure from top to below bottom (the foundation and the flume) has been restored, rebuilt, renewed or revamped, including replacement of the 1920-era lighting relic by a computerized lighting system.
In 1999 the wooden chairs were replaced with plush new theater seating. A memorial to the original chairs is on the grounds of the house. Continuing a tradition from 1932, many of the chairs commemorate Colorado pioneers, notable performers, and opera supporters. Illustrious names like Horace Tabor, Buffalo Bill Cody, Beverly Sills, and Lillian Gish are carved on the backs of the seats.
The opera house was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1973.
The Central City Opera House is the performance venue for the Central City Opera company which celebrated its 75th year of activity in 2007.