Tabor Opera House

308 Harrison Avenue,
Leadville, CO 80461

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Additional Info

Previously operated by: Fox Inter-Mountain Theaters Inc.

Architects: A.G. Higgins, J. Thomas Roberts

Previous Names: Weston Opera House, Elks Opera House, Elk Theatre

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Tabor Opera House

Horace Tabor became wealthy through his investments in numerous mines in Leadville. He wanted to bring culture to the city and so he built the Tabor Opera House. At that time there was no place for family entertainment. It was built in 90 days, at a cost of a reported $40,000, and opened on November 29, 1879 to a less than full house. There was a hanging in town that night and many people attended that rather than opening night when “The Serious Family” & “Who’s Who” was presented. That was one of the few times that the Opera House was not filled to capacity.

Tabor had imported patented Andrews opera chairs for his place. They were covered in plush red velvet and some are still installed in the Opera House today. Only the finest was good enough for Tabor and his millions.

The entertainment was also among the finest in the country. The opera house was on what was known as the Silver Circuit with entertainment coming from the east, stopping in Denver, Leadville and eventually to San Francisco. Many famous people of the day performed on the stage. Among them were Anna Held, Mrs. Fisk, Jack Langrish, Texas Jack and John Phillip Sousa. It has been said that Houdini also was on the stage, but no concrete proof of that has been found to date. Oscar Wilde once gave a lecture there and then was taken down in the Matchless Mine where he proceeded to out drink the miners! Others who appeared here were Modjestka, Maude Adams & Harry Lauder.

Several years ago while people were exploring in the attic, old billboards and posters were found from many years ago, having been preserved by having tile covering them. They were removed, and have now been preserved and displayed on the main floor of the Opera House behind glass and in frames for all to see.

The opera house held magic lantern shows for years and began showing movies in the late-1900’s and operated as a movie theatre known as the Elk Theatre into the 1950’s. The projection booth is still up in the balcony.

Contributed by Anthony L. Vazquez-Hernandez

Recent comments (view all 5 comments)

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on March 7, 2014 at 7:59 pm

The Tabor Opera House in Leadville was one of the famous theater of the Old West. Horace Tabor and his wife Baby Doe Tabor were the subjects of an opera in the 1970-era, “Baby Doe”. (I’m going on memory here). There is one roadshow theater listed for Leadville in the 1897-98 edition of the Julius Cahn Official Theatrical Guide: the Weston Opera House, 900 seats, run by A. S. Weston. Was that a new name for the Tabor Opera House? Unfortunately, there are no street addresses in the Guide. The Weston Opera House was one flight up from the street, had gas illumination; the proscenium opening was 20 feet wide X 16 feet high, and the stage was 35 feet deep.

davidcoppock on January 10, 2018 at 2:40 pm

The Tabor Opera house appeared on an episode of American Pickers(season 11, episode),(Mountain Mayhem).

DavidZornig on June 30, 2020 at 4:04 pm

Additional history credit History Colorado.

“November 20, 2019

On this day in 1879, the Tabor Opera House in Leadville opened. 🎭

After only 100 days of construction, the new opera house opened in Leadville thanks to Horace Tabor. At the time of opening it was said to be the grandest theater between Saint Louis and San Francisco.

The theater was elegant and included two retail stores, multiple floors, and an enclosed skywalk to the Clarendon Hotel (we all know how cold Leadville can be as the highest town in Colorado!).

The interior featured frescoes, custom carpets, and hand-painted stage curtains. The opera house even had the first gas lights in Leadville and they helped illuminate the fancy theater.

Today, the original Italianate exterior of the building is largely intact, making the building a contributing member of the Leadville Historic District as well as becoming one of the nation’s very first National Historic Landmarks in 1961. The Opera House has also been a State Historical Fund grant recipient, and we’re thrilled to support their ongoing efforts. The building is currently being used for theater productions, while simultaneously undergoing various rehabilitation."

Alan Bell
Alan Bell on February 10, 2021 at 1:06 am

Preservation Magazine, Winter 2021:

“A mining magnate took just 100 days to construct the opulent Tabor Opera House, which features brick walls 16 inches thick. The opera house attracted luminaries such as John Philip Sousa and Oscar Wilde, as well as more rambunctious entertainers like Buffalo Bill and Harry Houdini. The National Trust for Historic Preservation and American Express are two of several organizations supporting a current project to rehabilitate the opera house. Work began in June of 2020.”

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on July 21, 2021 at 8:59 am

The hisotry page of the Tabor Opera House’s official web site says that the theater became the Weston Opera House in 1893 and operated under that name until 1901. It was then purchased by the local Elks lodge and was renamed Elks Opera House. A major rebuilding was undertaken in 1902.

Originally located upstairs, the auditorium was moved to the ground floor, allowing a larger stage to be built. Upper floors were reconfigured for use by the lodge. Later Cahn guides list the Elks Opera House as a ground floor theater with 939 seats, 410 on the main floor, 195 in the balcony, 300 in the gallery and 34 in boxes. The architect for the rebuilding was A. G. Higgins. The rebuilt Opera House opened on December 11, 1902.

In 1954, the building was sold by the Elks to Evelyn Furman, who ran the theater until 1984, when operation was turned over to her daughter and son-in-law, Sharon and Bill Bland. The Blands sold the house to the City of Leadville in 2016. In 2017 the City granted a 50-year lease and a renewable 10-year operating agreement to the Tabor Opera House Preservation Foundation, who have begun presenting live events and are undertaking a multi-year renovation project.

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