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Take in a show and more at these historic restored stages in Eureka and Fallon.
Photo: Matt Smith (above & below)
EUREKA OPERA HOUSE
The Eureka Opera House, dating to 1880, is one place that may have been torn down had it been located in any state other than Nevada.
“The historic buildings in [our] community have been owned by—in many cases—the same family for years and years, and that’s why they’ve been kept in good shape,” says Wally Cuchine, retired longtime director of the Eureka Opera House. “It [restoration] has literally made us what I tout as the best-preserved historic mining camp in this part of Nevada…because the buildings that the county has restored are being used for public uses, like the opera house and the courthouse. It gives people a reason to stop and spend more time in Eureka. Hopefully they’ll want to have a little lunch and go see the cemeteries, too.”
When Eureka was populated with wealthy gold barons and railroad magnates, the opera house was the epicenter of society. When it closed in 1958, one could have wagered that it would become just another pile of rubble, ruins of the old Eureka. And for nearly three decades, that seemed to be its fate.
Then Eureka County bought the building in 1990 and began a three-year restoration project. “The Grand Hall was restored to be like it was in 1880,” Cuchine says. “The ground floor of the opera house, when the building was privately owned, was businesses, so we of course changed that.”
The Eureka Opera House reopened in 1993 with authentic pieces, such as the original hand-painted Oleo stage curtain, mixed in with modern conveniences, such as a full kitchen and audio/visual capabilities. Visitors can tour the opera house and see the signatures of performers on the walls backstage, “historical graffiti” via the traveling musicians who have left their mark and legacy on the stage. Cuchine says the oldest signature is from 1897.
The ground floor of the opera house has been turned into an art gallery, showcasing primarily Nevada artists. Perhaps it’s the serenity of the high desert or the loneliness of one-street towns, but Nevada produces a lot of artists, and their work can often be found in unexpected galleries, displayed with surprising sophistication and pride. Visitors can always tour the art collection, and of course explore the opera house and Courthouse Gallery across the street. “We’re booked with cultural events through September,” Cuchine says.
The Eureka Opera House hosts traveling performers and rotating art exhibits. The 2011 season has already welcomed “Men of Worth,” an Irish and Scottish folk music group. The Utah Shakespeare Festival performs “Macbeth” on March 18, and Ralph Cuda & The Dixieland Boys will take the stage in April, followed by several notable cowboy poets in May, June, and July.
OATS PARK ART CENTER
A few hours west on U.S. Highway 50, in Fallon, is another unexpected venue dedicated to the arts. The Oats Park Art Center, formerly an elementary school, presents live music, film series, art exhibits, and interactive lectures by performers. It’s another example of the old-turned-new along the Loneliest Road.
Famed architect Frederic DeLongchamps designed the Oats Park School in 1914. In his day, DeLongchamps was Nevada’s most prolific architect, and while the mining engineer had no formal training in building design, he orchestrated nine county courthouses in Nevada and California and many state buildings during his short tenure as the official Nevada state architect.
The unassuming schoolhouse in Fallon is typical of DeLongchamps’ style—classic and functional. It was closed in the 1970s, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990, and in the early 1990s began a $5.5-million renovation and expansion, which continues.
Interestingly, the Churchill Arts Council found DeLongchamps’ orginal plans, which included a theater that was deferred in the orginal construction. The site reopened in 2003 as the Oats Park Art Center with the 350-seat Barkley Theater and three art galleries.
Rick Gray, executive director of the Fallon Convention and Tourism Authority, says the quality of the center helps attract high-caliber performers to the rural town. It was built with unobstructed views of the stage and near-perfect acoustics. “It’s a unique space, and for that reason a lot of artists choose to perform there,” he says. “The arts are thriving here in Fallon.” Indeed, Oats Park Art Center brings a full calendar of cultural events and musical performances to Fallon and gives visitors a reason to explore the agricultural town. “I think a third, if not more, of the audience is out-of-area visitors,” Gray adds.
The Churchill Arts Council owns and operates the art center and theater, and Gray credits the Council with choosing performers that appeal to a wide range of audiences. The 2010/2011 season started with a bang with the Cajun band Feufollet, followed by Americana, Celtic, and country bands. The December show, the Tommy Castro Band, sold out, and in May, Sierra Leone’s Refugee All-Stars will bring songs of survival and hope to the Fallon stage.
Valerie Serpa, executive director of the Churchill Arts Council, has been involved with the arts council from the beginning, and she says that while 35 to 40 percent of the audience for any given show is from out of town, it’s the locals who reap the rewards of the historic building coming to life with every performance. “It’s fabulous for the community that benefits from it, [and it] has emotional ties in the community. My family went to school there, lots of local families went to school there…it has a nice residual energy.”
Eureka Opera House
31 S. Main St., Eureka
“Macbeth,” Utah Shakespeare Festival, Mar. 18
Ralph Cuda & The Dixieland Boys, Apr. 8
Oats Park Art Center
151 E. Park St., Fallon
25th Annual “An Evening with the Arts,” Mar. 5
Robert Morrison: A Survey,
Mar. 28-May 24
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Aquila Theatre Company, Apr. 2
Robert Morrison, on A Survey, Apr. 9
Corrinne Clegg Hales & Gailmarie Pahmeier Poetry Reading, Apr. 30