Wheeler Opera House

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The Wheeler Opera House has a long history in the Aspen community. Since its opening in 1889, the Colorado Opera House has been the center of Aspen's cultural scene.

The Opera House was founded by Jerome B Wheeler, a wealthy entrepreneur originally from New York. Jerome built the Hotel Jerome and the Wheeler Block (the Wheeler Opera House Building) in 1889. The opening night performance of the theater was the English comic opera (The King's Fool) by Hans Conried on April 23 and 24. The presentation also included a tantalizing performance by a group of Viennese lady fencers.

In 1912, two mysterious fires destroyed the theatre portion of the Wheeler Block. For the next eight years, the theater remained dark and boarded up - almost forgotten - until finally, in 1918, it was acquired by the current owner, the City of Aspen, Colorado. In 1949, a community effort was made to clean up the Opera House, repair the fire damage and replace the leaking roof.

In the 1960s, Walter Paepcke, a U.S. industrialist and philanthropist, leased the theatre from the city. Along with architect Herbert Bayer, he embarked on a renovation project combining Victorian elements with a Bauhaus touch.

The Opera House building was included in the State and National Historic Registers in 1976. In the 1980s, the City of Aspen, with the assistance of Roger Morgan Studio in New York, started the renovation process. In 1984, the House was restored to its current Victorian splendor.

Today, the Wheeler Opera House stands as one of the centerpieces of the Aspen community. It is supported by a Real Estate Transfer Tax (RETT), which enables it to serve as the primary venue for numerous local non-profit organizations at a subsidized rate.

The annual highlights include the Wheeler Opera House performance series, the Holiday Open House, the Wheeler Film Society movie series, the Aspen Center for Physics winter lecture series, the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, and numerous other community and professional presentations. Each year, the theater conducts the Beyond Bluegrass Festival - a festival of Acoustic Music featuring traditional American music and its various roots and branches.

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