The Mancos Opera House restoration is underway, and its owners hope it will preserve a historical piece of the town – and provide residents with a quality community space.
The space opened for tours throughout the day Saturday, with the building’s owners and leaders from the Mancos Creative District sharing their vision of what the restored Opera House will ultimately look like.
“I want kids growing up in Mancos to be able to stand up on the stage,” said Philip Walters, who owns the building along with his wife, Linda. The two of them also founded the Mancos Opera House Co.
The Mancos Opera House has its roots in the early 20th century. It was built in 1910 by George Woods and A. J. Ames, with the ground floor housing a drugstore and butcher shop, while the second floor provided a space for community gatherings and theatrical productions, with a large stage and balcony seating.
The second floor saw all sorts of uses, from plays to movie showings. The Opera House was home to the first motion picture machine in Montezuma County, and for a time, students played half-court basketball in the space until the high school built a gymnasium, Walters said.
But in the 1960s, the Opera House fell into disrepair, perhaps partly because of the rise of television transmitters in the area, he said.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5231 owned and maintained the site from 1955 until fall 2017, when the post decided to sell the building.
Philip and Linda Walters had been involved in Opera House preservation efforts since they moved to Mancos in the late 1990s. When the building came on the market in 2017, many locals wanted to make sure that it stayed in the community and didn’t get turned into apartments, Philip Walters said.
So the couple purchased the site and decided they would figure out what to do later.
The Opera House building has seen some changes over the years. In the 1950s, the high ceiling of the ground floor was dropped, in the name of modernity and for ease of heating, Philip Walters said.
And in 2002, when the building was in danger of collapsing, the Colorado Historical Fund financed an “emergency stabilization” of the building, which included installing some steel beams under the balconies in the theater, along with some roof repairs.
History is literally nicked into the walls of the building. The “green room” apartments under the stage were home to a group of four young actresses for some months in 1965 and 1966, while they rehearsed and performed “Little Mary Sunshine.” Graffiti from their time in Mancos emblazons the apartment walls – one of the actresses who left her mark was Diane Hall, who would later go on to become the famed “Diane Keaton.”
The Walters have partnered with the Mancos Creative District for the restorations. They are focused on preserving the historical integrity of the building, while also making it more usable for community events.
“We refer to this project as a rehabilitation, as we intend to preserve the historic usage and fabric of the building, while updating the infrastructure for utility, access and safety,” Philip Walters said.
They hope to finish this infrastructure piece by February 2020.
Last summer, the Mancos Creative District received a $32,409 grant from the History Colorado State Historical Fund to support the renovations, with the Walters providing matching funds.
This “rehabilitation” includes adding new roof covering, gutters, ADA-compliant bathroom facilities, and an elevator for access to the theater. They hope to return the east store bay to its original front design, and use the west store bay for concessions, a bar, and ticketing.
Construction is expected to begin in earnest this spring. The sixth annual spring Hoedown will be hosted at the Mancos Opera House on April 27, but after that, the space will be closed until the third week of September, when the Mancos Valley River Film Festival will be held there.