OURAY – The air was abuzz with the sound of power tools at the Wright Opera House last week.
was sanding down the back bar in the lobby, restoring it to a lustrous natural wood finish. Nearby, Montrose carpenter Tyler Van Arsdell obsessed over the final details of the cherry wood banister for the new staircase that sweeps from the renovated lobby to the theater upstairs.
Workers with Dallas Creek Construction filed in and out of the building, and up and down the stairs, on various missions of their own. A crew of electricians set up a ladder in the midst of it all and got to work re-hanging chandeliers.
The 126-year-old venue for the performing arts has been closed for renovations since early February. This Saturday, marks the grand unveiling, when the opera house reopens to the public with a sold-out Hayes Carll concert.
When concertgoers arrive, they will step into an utterly transformed ground-floor lobby, replete with plush, burgundy-and-cream wall-to-wall carpet and restored tin ceilings painted a lustrous gold.
Before going upstairs for the show, guests can linger over drinks in an elegant new lounge and back bar area.
A few final touches remain to be done – namely, the custom, hand-screened Bradbury & Bradbury wallpaper and the new elevator, both of which should be installed by mid-June.
Dallas Creek Construction is the general contractor for the ambitious remodel, dubbed the “Access Project” because its scope has focused primarily on those parts of the opera house that provide access to the theater upstairs.
A slew of skilled volunteers have worked alongside the hired professionals to get the job done on time and within budget.
For example, Khris Dunham (the proprietor of Khristopher’s Culinaire, and a master tile-layer) installed tile behind the back bar, and Ouray metalworker Jeff Skoloda made a U-shaped railing for the new blackout curtain at the entrance to the theater upstairs. April Orgren (a new Friends of the Wright Opera House boardmember) and her husband, Mark, have donated countless hours on finish work, mostly in the theater upstairs.
The main thing ticketholders will notice, once upstairs, is that the old concession counter from the days when the Wright operated as a movie theater in the 1990s is gone, as is the awkward “funnel effect” patrons would experience passing the counter between the stairwell and the theater entrance.
Inside the theater itself, many improvements have been made as well.
A new tech booth suspended from the ceiling at the back of the theater will protect the Wright’s state-of-the-art light, sound and projection equipment, and a makeshift “backstage” area that used to run along the north wall of the theater has been ripped out to open up the floor and allow for more seating.
The ancient plaster has also been stripped from the north wall, revealing its original brick (matching the brick on the previously stripped south wall). Under the plaster, volunteers discovered a boarded up hidden doorway that probably once connected the theater to the historic building next door.
The Orgrens salvaged some brick and flooring from the ruins of a miner’s cabin on their property in Ouray to fill in unused doorway and patch parts of the original wood floor and it’s remarkable how closely the planks match (Berger suspects that is because it all came from trees harvested and milled locally in the 1880s).
Berger and his fellow boardmembers hope the renovations will spark renewed community interest in the 126-year-old theater building.
“Once the word gets out, people will realize, ‘Gee, the Wright is a really neat place to go,” Berger said. “Now, if we could just get a little bit of furniture for the lounge….”
Fundraising for the Access Project took about a year to complete, and was largely achieved through a capital campaign launched by FWOH in the spring of 2013. Funds came primarily from private donors and two substantial grants from the Gates Family Foundation and El Pomar Foundation.
The entire restoration of the Wright Opera House is expected to cost $2 million, and will take place over five to seven years. Updates on the construction progress and general information about the Wright Opera House, including the full line-up of summer programming, can be found online at thewrightoperahouse.org.
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