Leadville’s looking for a little help to buy the legendary Tabor Opera House | VailDaily.com

Leadville’s looking for a little help to buy the legendary Tabor Opera House

LEADVILLE — Some say the highest spot in America's highest city is the balcony of the legendary Tabor Opera House.

Perspective like that must be preserved, which explains the enthusiasm behind Leadville's Save the Tabor campaign.

The good people of Cloud City started asking what was going to happen to their beloved Tabor.

Their Tabor, because people feel that way.

The Blands can no longer run it and — heaven forbid — someone might convert it into condominiums.

"Most consider the opera house the keystone to Leadville's historic downtown," said Sarah Dallas with the city of Leadville.

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All in the family

Sharon Bland's family has owned it for 61 years, since Sharon's mother, Evelyn Livingston Furman, bought it in 1955 and operated it until she was 84 years old.

Sharon and her husband Bill Bland run it these days, and the city of Leadville is trying to buy it because the Blands cannot run it any more.

Judy Hinton chairs Leadville's Historic Preservation Commission. She connected former Leadville Mayor Jamie Stuever with Dana Crawford, an historic preservationist in Denver.

They chatted with the Blands, who decided the city of Leadville would be the perfect buyer.

The mayor brought it back to the City Council. The decision was not without debate, but the City Council took the bull by the horns to try to raise the money to buy the Tabor. That was October 2015.

The city put up $100,000 from their reserve funds and received a $200,000 grant from History Colorado, $25,000 from El Pomar Foundation, $15,000 for a business study from the Harts Family Foundation, and they're waiting to hear from the Boettcher and Gates foundation.

Colorado's Department of Local Affairs is mired in a bunch of bureaucracy that should sort itself out by the end of August, Dallas said. They've been asked for a sizeable pile of cash.

In the meantime, Lake County put up a $50,000 challenge to the city, and the city matched it.

"Everyone has stepped up locally. We've seen a lot of enthusiasm toward this project," Dallas said.

A bit about Evelyn

Evelyn Livingston Furman moved to Leadville when she was 20, to work as the nanny of a geologist professor's family, who was working on a mining venture.

Before long, Leadville's legends captured her heart, especially those involving the Tabor Opera House.

Evelyn married Gordon, a miner, and they lived in a mine shack near the Matchless Mine just above Baby Doe Tabor, who was happy to regale them with opera house stories.

Evelyn bought the Opera House from the Leadville Elks Club in 1955 to keep some guy from leveling it and paving that piece of paradise to put up a parking lot — which is exactly what he wanted to do.

She was a schoolteacher and offered her life savings, around $10,000, but it was only half what she needed.

A local bank loaned her the rest, with the condition that she and her husband Gordon Furman put their furniture and appliance store there.

"Everyone in town and everyone in the family thought she was crazy. But when she got something in her mind she moved forward with it," Sharon said.

Sharon was 12 years old when they started giving tours for 25 cents each. Tours are now $8, and run every day except Wednesday.

They were just open in the summertime, giving tours and hosting shows, because warm fuzzy feelings are not enough to heat the opera house through a Leadville winter.

"We take people all over that opera house," Sharon said. "Once you get inside and experience it, you feel a sense of ownership in it."

By the way, Gordon Furman lost his arm in a mining accident, but still repaired appliances and built Leadville's first radio.

Sharon said when she was a kid, she whined that there was TV in Denver but not in Leadville. Gordon acquired a television, took Sharon to the top of Mosquito Pass where they found a television signal, and installed a television signal translator.

"We finally had television in Leadville. It was snowy, but we had it," Sharon said.

Built in 100 days

Mining magnate Horace Tabor built the massive three-story Tabor, known as "the most perfect place for amusement between Chicago and San Francisco," in 1879 in 100 days.

It has been designated a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and an Endangered Place designation from Colorado Preservation, Inc.

In the late 1880s, Peter McCourt established the Silver Circuit as a way for acts to travel the region and perform in various opera houses and theaters. McCourt managed the Tabor and was Baby Doe Tabor's older brother.

The Tabor Opera House has hosted entertainers such as Oscar Wilde and Harry Houdini as they made their way from Denver to San Francisco on the Silver Circuit during the mining heyday. Judy Collins played there, and it has been host to countless local events.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

Save the Tabor

To contribute or for information, go to http://www.savethetabor.com