Tabor Opera House seeks votes to help restore historic landmark
October 7, 2018
Did you know that at one point in Colorado's history, Leadville was a booming mining town boasting a population of 30,000 people? The Cloud City, situated at an elevation of 10,152 feet, had hospitals, hotels, banks, churches, saloons and the Tabor Opera House, which was called the "finest opera house west of the Mississippi."
The Tabor Opera House was named after Horace Tabor, one of the most well known silver mining kings in the West. After striking it rich, he had an estimated net worth of 10 million dollars and was known for his extravagant lifestyle. He married Baby Doe Tabor after divorcing his first wife of 25 years, Augusta Tabor.
The Tabor Opera House was built in 100 days and was known to be the most costly building project in the state at the time of its debut on Nov. 20, 1879. The massive three-story opera house was constructed of stone, brick and iron and building materials were brought by wagons from Denver.
Even though it was an amazing structure back in the day, nothing lasts forever and the Tabor Opera House is in need of restoration. That's why it was chosen as one of the Partners in Preservation's 20 historical places across the nation that's vying for $150,000 to put towards the Tabor Opera House Preservation Foundation's $10 million dollar goal.
Partners in Preservation is an initiative created by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and American Express to engage the public in preserving and increasing awareness of America's historic places and their role in sustaining local communities. Since its inception in 2006, Partners in Preservation has committed over $22 million in support of more than 200 sites.
"We need to raise $10 million for the full rehabilitation," said Stephanie Spong, president of the Tabor Opera House Preservation Foundation. "We have raised $316,000 for the Architecture and Engineering study that will deliver the detailed architectural plans and construction documents for the overall interior and exterior rehabilitation of the building. That study is underway, with expected completion in fall 2019."
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They plan to address the south and west facades first, rehabilitating masonry, windows and chimneys, to seal the envelope of the building and halt further deterioration from water damage.
"That Phase I project is budgeted at $1.5 million, of which we have raised the $500,000 from the Save America's Treasures grant and with luck and further support on voting, we hope to win the $150,000 from the Partners in Preservation competition," Spong said. "We hope to raise the remaining funds for this Phase I project by next fall and start construction in 2019."
In order to win the $150,000, they need your help. The historical site with the most votes will win and although this is the only site in Colorado in the contest, the Tabor Opera House is going up against other historical sites that are located in big metropolitan areas like Chicago, Boston and New York.
The three-story building included two retail stores on the first floor, an elegant theater on the second floor, and a third floor that housed a ballroom, bar and connected to the adjacent Clarendon Hotel via passageway. The ornate interior boasted 72 gas jets (the first gas lights to illuminate Leadville), richly painted walls and ceiling frescoes, custom carpets, and hand-painted stage curtains.
Oscar Wilde, Harry Houdini, John Philip Sousa, and Buffalo Bill were among the famous entertainers and speakers who performed at the Tabor Opera House.
Tours are held during the warmer months (there's not much heat in the building) and once you see this magnificent structure and wonder what it must have been like in its heyday, you gain an affinity for the Tabor Opera House. If those walls could talk, they'd have some pretty interesting stories to tell.
Horace and Baby Doe Tabor were virtually penniless 1893 after the repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act devastated their fortune. Horace Tabor died a few years later in 1899 and legend has it that he told Baby Doe to hold on to the Matchless Mine near Leadville in case silver became profitable again. Baby Doe Tabor lived in a shed next to the Matchless Mine for 30 years until her death, hoping that Horace was right about the mine.
Help Leadville preserve a piece of history by voting for the Tabor Opera House at http://www.voteyourmainstreet.org. You are allowed to vote once a day every day until the contest ends on Oct. 26.