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Central City Opera House Association Records

Identifier: M123


The Central City Opera House Association is a non-profit organization founded in 1931 to manage and preserve the Central City Opera House located in Central City, Colorado and to direct annual summer opera festivals. Heirs of Peter McFarlane, a Central City businessman who owned the Opera House prior to 1931, donated the building to the University of Denver in 1931. The real estate holdings of the University of Denver were transferred back to the Association in 1982. The Association held the Central City Play Festival from 1932-1942 and from 1946-1970. Performances included the premieres of ''The Ballad of Baby Doe''(1956) and ''Lady From Colorado''(1964). The Opera House, Teller House and other Central City properties are part of the organization, and the Central City Opera Festival commissioned five original operas. The records located at the University of Denver cover the period from 1931 to 2013. The collection contains the administrative records of the organization together with programs for performances and photographs of productions and artists.


  • 1931-2015


Digital Repository

Central City Opera House Association Records

Language of Materials

The material is primarily in English.

Biographical / Historical

The Central City Opera House opened in 1878 when Central City, Colorado was a thriving community of almost 3,000 people. Soon after, the fortunes of Central City declined while those of Denver, Colorado rose. In 1881 the Opera House was rescued from demolition by the Gilpin County Opera House Association. As the population of Central City declined, the House was allowed to deteriorate until a local businessman, Peter McFarlane, took it over, paid for repairs and supported it through several seasons of financial loss. In 1910 moving pictures were shown, but it was not enough to save the theater, and in 1927, McFarlane closed the Opera House.

In 1931, Ida Kruse McFarlane, who was a professor of English at the University of Denver, decided to try to rescue the Opera House from destruction. She enlisted the help of Anne Evans, daughter of the second territorial governor and a member of the University of Denver’s Civic Theater. They first determined that the Opera House was structurally sound, and then approached the University of Denver with the possibility of the University accepting title to the Opera House. The plan would take advantage of the tax-exempt status of the University and its connection to the Civic Theater. The University agreed to accept the gift from the McFarlane family, but stipulated that the University would have no responsibility for the upkeep of the property or its use as a theater. Those responsibilities fell to a group composed of Anne Evans, Ida Kruse McFarlane, Allen True, Edna James Chappell and Delos Chappell, who in 1931 formed the Central City Opera House Association.

The Opera House was renovated, funds were raised, and on July 16, 1932, the first production was presented. Opening ceremonies included Frederick McFarlane handing the Opera House key to Frederick M. Hunter, Chancellor of the University of Denver. The opening production was Camille and starred Lillian Gish. Robert Edmond Jones designed and produced Camille along with several other early productions. It was the beginning of a long run of summer opera seasons that grew to include Denver débutantes as flower girls. Many important singers appeared in Central City productions, including Beverly Sills. Central City Opera House Association commissioned five original operas: The Ballad of Baby Doe, Gabriel’s Daughter: The Story of Clara Brown, The Face on the Barroom Floor, Lady from Colorado and En Mis Palabras.

The Association held the Central City Play Festival from 1932-1942 and from 1946-1970. Performances included the premieres of ''The Ballad of Baby Doe''(1956) and ''Lady From Colorado''(1964). The Festival was suspended from 1942-1945.

The Central City Opera House Association’s affiliation to the University of Denver continued for many years. In addition to the Opera House itself, the University owned many other properties in Central City that were donated to the University. Other properties were donated to the Association directly. In 1953 the Teller House was transferred from the University to the Association in order to relieve the University of building ownership in which liquor was sold. At the same time, an agreement was completed between the two entities whereby the Association would manage all the properties on the University’s behalf. That arrangement continued with minor modifications until 1982. The Central City Opera House Association was in one of its periodic financial downturns and requested that the University transfer some of their properties to the Association so that they could be sold to fund the upkeep and renovation of other important properties. An agreement was reached and the real estate holdings of the University of Denver that were located in Central City were transferred to the Association in 1982.

The Association has continued to prosper and holds a summer opera season. In 2010, the general/artistic director is Pelham G. ''Pat'' Pearce, who continues the tradition of training young voices and presenting unique and important operas.


390.0 Linear Feet (394 containers)

Scope and Contents

The Central City Opera House Association records contain administrative records, including publicity and public relations records representing production of theater presentations; includes correspondence, contracts, press releases, financial statements, meeting minutes, map, photographs, sheet music, scenic design, costume design, roster, tickets, speeches, cookbooks, newspaper clippings, magazine articles, announcements, pamphlets and house programs for opera and theater productions. Photographs consist of both performances and performers.


This collection is arranged into (10) series: 1. Administrative Files; 2. Programs and Performances; 3. Photographs; 4. Publicity; 5. Scores and Production Notes; 6. Production and Event Files; 7. Publications; 8. Audiovisual Materials; 9. Flower Girls; 10. Memorabilia

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gifts of Eduma Buffum Boyne, 1971, Albert J. Schlaefke, 1976. Gift of Robert F. Lotito, 1977, Libbie Gottschalk 2002.


Further accruals are expected.

Related Materials

Forty-seven related items from the Central City Opera are held at Colorado College under call number PN2273.C6 C46. Includes opera programs and season announcements, theater programs and playbills, brochures, maps, a menu, and a newspaper article. Creation dates approximately 1932-1978.


There is no accession record for the bulk of the collection. Three separate accession statements cover only a small portion. The University of Denver Special Collections and Archives is not certain of the status of future accruals. At one time Special Collections and Archives was designated as the archive for the Central City Opera House Association, but there have been changes in management, and a new relationship has not been formalized. (mak 2/15/2008)

Processing Information

This collection was listed in Special Collections records as three separate collections: Central City Opera House Association Collection, Central City Opera Association Collection and Central City collection in the University records. Research indicated that the proper titling of the collection is Central City Opera House Association, which is the entity created in 1931 to host operas and manage the property, and is still in existence. Any University records are part of other record groups, i.e., Trustees minutes, Real Estate records, Chancellors' papers, etc.

Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections and Archives Repository

2150 East Evans Avenue
Denver CO 80208
(303) 871-3428