Orpheum Theater

415 E. Main Street,
Buena Vista, CO 81211

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Functions: Community Arts Center, Concerts, Conference Center, Live Performances

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Orpheum Theater

History written by Judy Green.

“The theater is the soul of a community.” -Michael Martin Murphey, at the Orpheum Theatre, October 2005

The Orpheum Theatre is the soul of Buena Vista, and is about to spring to life stronger, healthier, and with more heart than ever, thanks to the efforts over the past several years of a committed group of volunteer directors. The cornerstone says 1910, the year “Skinny” Pyle built the building, which houses the second-floor 5,000 square foot theater. Skinny himself operated first a livery and later a model-T dealership on the floor below the theater. In the first 50 years or so, the theater hosted everything from silent movies to basketball games, plays, concerts, traveling minstrels, “talkies,” dances and poetry readings.

The lowest point in the theater’s history was when some new owners attempted to turn the entire second floor into apartments, but only succeeded in desecrating the interior, literally throwing the ornate tin ceiling tiles and wainscoting out of the windows and onto Main Street below, and tearing down the heavy velvet curtain from the front of the stage. When that project was abandoned, hundreds of bats became the theater’s only tenants for many years, easily entering through broken windows and a rotting roof. The soul of the community groaned under the weight of neglect.

When new owners purchased the building in 1994, they realized quickly that the entire second floor had once been a theater. The outline of the semi-circular bandstand and steps were still visible adjacent to the stage. A balcony had clearly been removed from the west wall and research showed that at one point the theater had been called, “All things to all people,” because of the diversity of entertainment and other community events once held there.

The theater is now recognized as a 501©(3) non-profit corporation, guided by a volunteer board and an executive director, and has benefited from grants and awards from The Colorado Historical Society, El Pomar Foundation and a few others, making it possible to repair and improve the building’s structural integrity.

Rehabilitation efforts include a bright new coat of paint for the theater’s interior and a second stairway on the south wall. These improvements and others have allowed the theater to begin holding events, even while funds are being raised and architectural plans are being approved to fully rehabilitate the theater. Since 2003, the theater has hosted concerts, banquets, Stories On Stage®, plays, even a salsa band, and most recently the Festival of Trees, attended by over 600 people in a single afternoon.

That day, the soul of the Buena Vista community was warmed by the wishes children whispered into Santa’s ear, by the sounds of well-rehearsed harmonic carol singers, and by the angelic voices of school children reciting their lines in the Christmas play. It was illuminated by dozens of spectacularly decorated trees, donated by local businesses and organizations.

Most importantly, the Orpheum Theater, the soul of the community, was reminded of its past prominent role in the lives of the people who flock to the area for its jaw-dropping natural beauty, its fierce-but-friendly frontier spirit and its unique recreational opportunities.

That day marked an irreversible change in the history of Buena Vista. It was the day that the community once again recognized the Orpheum Theater on Main Street as the indisputable anchor of a town with a past full of colorful stories that movies were made of; mining adventures, narrow-gauge railroads and hearty pioneers drawn by the scenery and fertile valleys. Now the Orpheum Theatre is becoming the indisputable anchor of a future full of new ideas, cultural expression, innovative business opportunities and the fresh faces of those moving to the area.

The theater is the soul of the community. And the soul of this community keeps a close watch on Main Street, Buena Vista, Colorado.

Contributed by Anthony L. Vazquez-Hernandez
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