Crowds in 1878 period clothing attend reopening of Central City Opera House, July 16, 1932.
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. Prominent 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.
Central City Opera House
Her early glory years following the 1878 grand opening were short-lived. When the Central City mines were played out, the Opera House fell into disrepair. Fortunately, 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, the legendary actress Lillian Gish opened the newly restored opera house with Camille, launching an annual tradition of summer festivals in Central City.
“April, 1932. Something has happened, or is in the process of happening. Since the conclusion of “Uncle Vanya” Lillian has given little serious consideration to theatrical matters, putting aside as unsuitable a variety of offered parts. A new prospect now presents itself—one that appeals to her taste and imagination: a group of influential citizens of Denver, Colorado, headed by Mr. Delos Chappell, propose to refurbish and reopen the ancient Opera House of the little “ghost mining town” of Central City, with a week’s presentation of “Camille,” at fancy prices, for the benefit of the University of Denver.
Robert Edmond Jones is to stage and direct the production, with Lillian as Casting Director, herself in the title role. She is deeply interested—has secured Raymond Hackett for the part of Armand, the rehearsing to begin at once.
The New York Times: Denver, Col., July i6\—In an impressive ceremony, amid the merry laughter of “pioneer” belles and gay young men, and at a cost of $250,000, the famous Central City Opera House was brought to life tonight after a silence of fifty years. Men, women and children from the Atlantic Seaboard and the Pacific Coast came to this “phantom” village, once the miners’ capital. Daughters and sons, granddaughters and grandsons of pioneers who once made those same walls vibrate with their applause were there for the gala opening of the revival, in dress such as their ancestors wore at the theatre when it was new. Some of the gowns, handed down through the fifty years, were once heard to rustle down those same aisles. Every person in the audience represented some famous character of the time when Central City was the centre of Colorado’s gold mining industry. “Camille” typified to perfection the taste of the ‘8 os in the theatre.
Miss Lillian Gish, as Marguerite Gautier, takes the leading role, with Raymond Hackett playing opposite her as Armand. It was the first time “Camille” has played in the old opera house in fifty years.” Life and Lillian Gish by Albert Bigelow Paine – NY The Macmillan Co 1932
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At the time the opera house was built, Central City was a booming mining town. Residents were interested in bringing culture to Central City and located the opera house prominently on Eureka Street. The Central City Opera House was built by funds raised through the Gilpin County Opera House Association and it was the first permanent opera house built in Colorado. Designed by Robert S. Roeschlaub, noted Denver architect, its opening night was March 4, 1878. Its opening helped establish Central City as the cultural center of the state until 1881 when Tabor Opera House opened in Denver. Prominent 19th century actors such as Fannie Barlow, Edwin Booth (older brother of John Wilkes Booth), Madame Januschek, Joseph Jefferson and others performed at the Central City Opera House.