The Wright Opera House
In 1881, brothers Ed and George Wright purchased several lots at the southwestern corner of 5th Avenue & Main St. (Highway 550), where they first built the Wright Brothers Building, a two-story brick structure that was considered “a wonder of the time.” A few years later, to the south of this earlier building, the Wright brothers began construction of the Wright Opera House because Ed Wright and his wife, Letitia, believed that the populace of Ouray needed to be provided with cultural opportunities to offset the influence of the dance halls, saloons, gambling dens, and houses of ill repute. They wanted to create a decent establishment that would feature cultural and educational programs of high quality for the entertainment and enlightenment of the young people and adults within the community.
- Construction date1888
- OwnersEd & George Wright and wives, Letitia & Lenora
- BuilderFrancis Carney
- Location472 Main Street, Ouray, Colorado
- Key FeatureMesker iron facade
Print of The Wright Opera House’s Original Main Stage Curtain, 1888
“Mt. Sneffels from the Dallas Divide”
Actual size of Curtain: 25’ x 11’
Photo credit: Mike Boruta
Original Main Stage Curtain
While we are unclear on who the painter of the Curtain is, we know that it is of a William H. Jackson photograph. When The Friends of the Wright purchased the building in 2011, two main stage curtains were discovered in the basement - The Original and The Second. The Original curtain is in a delicate state of disrepair and cannot withstand the wear and tear of constant display. The Second curtain, however, is hung on the south wall of the Theatre.
William H. Jackson was the preeminent photographer of the West from post Civil War until the early 1900s. He is credited with opening up the Western United States with his advertising photos for the newly completed Union Pacific Railroad. Jackson was the official photographer for the Hayden Survey in 1871, which is when he most likely took the Mt. Sneffels photo. His photographs are credited with convincing Congress to establish Yellowstone National Park in 1872.
Together with the Beaumont Hotel, Ouray County Court House, School House, and Miners Hospital (which now houses the Ouray County Museum), the Wright Opera House was one of the most imposing brick structures in Ouray during the late 1880s and early 1890s. This building “with its decorative iron front structural style and cast iron piers supporting the pressed metal front of the second floor was an addition the town could be proud of. Above the middle window of the second floor was a stained glass window and at the top and center of the building in pressed iron WRIGHTS HALL was clearly visible. A wrought-iron balcony extended in front of the three middle windows on the second floor,” all of which was manufactured by Mesker Brothers Iron Works of St. Louis, Missouri. It is one of about 19 structures on Ouray’s Main Street that are believed to be Mesker iron facades, which makes Ouray’s Main Street what is believed to be one of the largest concentration of Mesker fronts still extant in the United States. The hall was entered through a door level with a sidewalk on Third (Main) Street on the north end of the building and a stairway led up to the hall with the ticket office at the top.”
According to Darius Bryka of the Illinois Department of Historic Preservation and the expert on Mesker buildings, the Wright Opera House is the finest example of a Mesker Building that he has seen in the United States.
The grand opening of the Wright Opera House was held on December 4, 1888, with a benefit concert and ball given by the Magnolia Band to pay for uniforms. Later that month on December 19, 1888, Professors David and Laux provided a musical program consisting of piano and organ duets.
A number of years elapsed before the local residents began to accept this new cultural center for Ouray. Attendance was spotty until the collapse of the mining era. Then more and more activities were held in the Wright Opera House, including cultural activities for the school. Musicians were brought from Denver and other more culturally rich areas to perform for the people in Ouray County. Finally the Wright Opera House became the center of activities for the city of Ouray and the remainder of the County during the early part of the 20th century.
After a number of years of relative non-use of the Wright Opera House, it is once again being used for cultural events for the public. This structure which is very visible on Main Street makes a very significant contribution to the Ouray Historic District as stated in the Catherine Norman Survey of 2005 and is also a candidate for an individual listing on the National Register of Historic Places.