The city of Leadville has officially purchased the Tabor Opera House, and the historic building will now undergo major renovations.
Leadville paid $600,000 for the opera house and its contents -- all of which came from grants.
This now opens the door for a long-term project that could span 10 to 15 years, Mayor Greg Labbe says.
“It could take a long time to do everything that needs to be done,” he says. “And that’s OK. At least it’s started. It’s really a complete change in the possibilities.”
Big Repairs Needed
The city estimates that renovations could cost up to $10 million, because the opera house was built in 1879. Improvements were made recently to its roof and the structural support. But a lot of needs still remain -- from electrical and plumbing to the brick exterior. And right now the building is only open for summer events because it doesn’t have heat.
That’s where the Tabor Opera House Preservation Foundation comes in. The nonprofit will oversee operations and renovations, which will require more grants, Labbe says.
“There is no intent for the city to put money into that process,” he says. “Our total budget is about $2 million. The city is too poor to take this on.”
One priority will be to install a heating system so the Tabor Opera House can stay open year round.
“It is such a stunningly beautiful piece of our history,” Labbe says. “You go in and it feels like you’ve stepped back in time. I mean it’s old and it’s a bit tattered, but it’s heart is still in place.”
Previous Owner 'Needed To Sell'
It took more than seven years for the Tabor’s previous owner Sharon Bland to find a buyer. Bland's mother, Evelyn Furman, purchased the building in 1955 to save it from being demolished.
“We needed to sell it because it’s a big building and our family is not a rich family,” Bland says. “We’ve hung on to it for over 60 years now and financially and physically we just can’t do it.”
Mining tycoon Horace Tabor founded the Tabor Opera House during Leadville’s silver rush nearly 140 years ago. Entertainers like Harry Houdini and Oscar Wilde performed there in its early heyday. And musicians ranging from composer John Philip Sousa to folk musician Judy Collins have also appeared on its stage.
Recently, the historic building has hosted various events in its 650-seat theater, from concerts to operas. It’s also designated as a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
And Bland hopes the opera house has a bright future now that it has the support of organizations like History Colorado and individuals like renowned developer Dana Crawford.
“It’s mixed emotions,” Bland says. “You’re happy it’s in hands that can apply for grants and get funds. And yet we will miss the history and the people we meet there. That’s the hard part.”