Colorado’s oldest Opera House

Prepares for a Special Summer Season in Central City

by Pam Deck

Built in 1878, Central City’s Opera House is by far the oldest and most treasured Opera House in Colorado.  Almost 140 years ago, the citizens of Central City raised $12,000 to hire an architect from Denver, Robert Roeschlaub. With the finest natural stone available, he created this masterpiece which proudly stands at 124 Eureka Street. It is still the heart of Central City, Colorado. The Teller House, built in 1872, its neighbor to the east was once the most expensive hotel in the Colorado Territory. It charged $2 a room instead of 50 cents. The Opera House was built just after Colorado was admitted into the Union in 1876. Central was a busy, vibrant hub for culture in Colorado. The locals were proud when its Opera House was claimed as the “most luxurious theatre between Chicago and San Francisco.”

However fancy and elaborate this was for our Colorado mountains, history tells us the excitement was short lived. Gold began to get costly to extract and silver led fortune followers further west to Leadville. By 1881, the Opera House found itself in more debt than it could pay. So the citizens raised money and formed the Gilpin County Opera House Association. Peter McFarlane, a popular businessman, bought and managed it as long as he could. In 1910, it even showed moving pictures. But the population had moved on and so the beautiful doors were closed in 1927.

It went through a major renovation in 1931 and the McFarlane children donated the building to the University of Denver. DU then leased it for $1 year to the Central City Opera House Association, who still maintains it. They brought new life to its stage and have kept it open for 85 years.

July 16, 1932 marked an extravagant opening with “Camille” and the beautiful star, Lillian Gish, filling every one of its 750 seats.  This elegant building has been home to many world renowned stars. It now begins its 85th season with two major productions, Carmen and Cosi FanTutte. The Summer Festival begins July 8 through August 6. People come from thousands of miles to gaze at its beautiful ceiling frescoes and original stage.

This historic gem is supported by my many local charity groups. Bonfila-Stanton Foundation and DU are active participants. Honored guests such as Buffalo Bill, P.T. Barnum, Lillian Gish, Mae West, Shirley Temple Booth, Liberace, and Bob Hope were among the regulars. It still draws dignitaries from around the world to this well preserved landmark. In 1973, it was designated as a National Historic Landmark.

You can keep the history alive by taking a tour, which are provided by the Historic Society located across the street. You can also attend one of the world-class operas right here in Central City.

Tickets for the Opera are selling fast, as this is a cherished summer event for many families. You can find more information by going to or calling 303-292-6700.

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