TELLURIDE – The years 2012 and 2013 marked several important milestones for this old mining town-turned-adventurer’s paradise. The Telluride Ski Resort celebrated 40 years of operation. The famous Bluegrass Festival attracted thousands from across the country as organizers and guests alike enjoyed the festival’s 40th birthday. In the coming months the Telluride Film Festival will roll out the red carpet for the 40th anniversary of the world-renowned festival.
But one Telluride entity is celebrating the grandest anniversary party of them all: This month, the Sheridan Opera House is 100 years old.
The nonprofit Sheridan Arts Foundation, which owns and operates the historic theater, will commemorate this milestone by throwing a Speakeasy Gala, a decadent 1920s-themed party complete with a speakeasy bar, fundraising auction and period-accurate food and drink, this Saturday. To complement the Gilded Age theme, organizers of the event have booked the swinging sounds of the Cab Calloway Orchestra to play the night away. The event will begin Saturday, July 6, at 7 p.m., at Telluride’s historic building at 110 N. Oak St.
The Speakeasy Gala event is a fundraiser for constructing a new entryway for the Opera House that will deliver reduced utility costs, more lobby comfort and a heightened presence to the Oak Street entrance. A private foundation has committed to matching all donations for the project, up to $40,000; to date, over $36,000 has been raised. If adequately funded, the entryway project will be completed by September 2013.
General Admission tickets to the gala cost $75 and include two drink tokens, dessert and appetizers. First class tickets are $125 and include access to the Absinthe bar, two drink tokens, reserved seating, appetizers and champagne.
The Opera House will be decorated to emulate the early days of the building known as Telluride’s Crown Jewel. A secret speakeasy in the downstairs Gallery Room will be complete with a casino tables, Prohibition era-inspired specialty drinks from local bars including the New Sheridan, Oak, bars from the Telluride Ski Resort and the Opera House’s own Vaudeville Bar.
The Cab Calloway Orchestra starts playing at 8 p.m. The group is renowned for belting out spicy brass harmonies, air-tight ensemble work and irresistible rhythms that will have the audience bouncing and swaying the night away. Orchestra front man C. Calloway Brooks (grandson of the legendary Cab Calloway) and his band have graced the stage at other historic venues, including the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Lincoln Center and the Rome Opera House.
The Legacy Auction offers an opportunity for guests to bid on items representing all ten decades of the Opera House, including an authentic 1920s movie poster, a 1980s Vespa, original Sheridan Opera House theatre seats and more. To commemorate the next ten years of the Opera House, the Sheridan Arts Foundation will be selling seats as a part of its Sponsor a Seat Campaign. All proceeds go toward the renovation of the Opera House’s entryway renovation.
Flapper and gangster costumes are encouraged, but not mandatory. Durango’s Costume Emporium will have full sets of period-accurate male and female costumes available for rent on Friday, July 5 at the Sheridan Opera House Gallery Room. Call 970/247-1859 to reserve a costume early. More event details will be posted online at www.SheridanOperaHouse.com until the day of the event.
A brief history and moving forward
As mining operations bourgeoned in the late 19th century, Telluride attracted wealth and culture with lavish parties, balls and evening entertainment. The New Sheridan Hotel managers J.A. and Arvid Segerberg decided to build a venue to host such high-class events. Construction of the theater was completed in July of 1913, and it became a staple for many traveling troupes, moving pictures and theater productions. Initially titled the Segerberg Opera House, the venue was later named the Sheridan Opera House.
Economic hardships of the early 20th century forced the Segerberg brothers to close the theatre doors. In the decades after, the theater underwent several changes in ownership and titles.
In 1973, the world-famous Telluride Film Festival was founded. Event organizers purchased and renovated the Opera House to use it as the festival’s premier movie theater.
By 1991, the Opera House was threatened by commercial development due to substantial structural and cosmetic disrepair. Sandra and Keith Carradine of the Sheridan Arts Foundations, together with the Town of Telluride and the Colorado Historical Society, initiated the restoration of the crumbling building. To date, the Sheridan Arts Foundations has spent nearly $1.5 million and nearly ten years restoring the theatre.
Today, the theater serves as a must-stop for artists traveling in the area. “I love this; it’s like playing in my living room!” legendary singer-songwriter Jackson Browne said about the intimate venue.
Maintaining the use of the Opera House is a large undertaking. SAF has many challenges ahead to achieve its goal of restoring the Crown Jewel of Telluride to its original state. “We’ve already undergone several cosmetic and restoration projects but it’s a constant effort to maintain its use as a functioning venue,” said Ronnie Palamar, event director at the Opera House. “Using a 100-year-old building as a live venue is always rewarding, but it isn’t easy or cheap.”
The Opera House was the last commercial building built in Telluride until the town saw a reawakening as a ski area in the late 1960s. A cheaply constructed wooden entryway was enclosed on the south side of the brick Opera House, but was removed in 1985, when its owners redesigned much of the building.
SAF considers its entry restoration campaign as one of the most important projects for the Opera House’s future. Many visitors new to Telluride think the main door of the Opera House is merely a side door to the New Sheridan Hotel, since there is no clear differentiation between the two buildings.