Monday, May 20, 2013

Piper's Opera House, Piper's Opera House, B and Union Streets Virginia City, Nevada

The "most significant vintage theater in the West", Piper's Opera House originally opened in 1885, the third theatre built on the site by John Piper.

Piper's Opera House, Motion Picture World, July 20, 1918

Theatre Owner Daniel Connor, excerpts from Moving Picture World, July 20, 1918:

"I opened Piper's Opera House, Virginia City Nev., as a picture house in 1910. The town looked 'ripe'--the streets were jammed and no amusements in town. But they simply would not patronize 'only a picture show.' Dramatic companies would draw packed houses at $1.50, yet a picture show almost nothing at 10 cents. I stuck like a Greek for three months--a $20 General Film show doing from $4 to $12 a night; no higher.

"There was no operator here until I broke one in. When I got loose from the operating room I went after my old standbys--mechanical effects and newspapers. Booked a Kalem war reel, raised all the windows and broke loose with a real Verdun  battlefield. The noise brought a stampede. I followed up with a Selig and got the lions growling. Then I brought on wind and steamboat whistles.

"It was something new and staggered the natives. It created talk. They had never seen pictures put on nearly right. I put in a five-piece orchestra, and gradually modulated my noise effects to natural when I got them coming and I am here yet--all battled scarred from fighting and keeping out opposition. I may add that now opposition's career is brief, though often."   

Interior Piper's Opera House, circa 1940, Theatre Talks Collection
In conclusion, Connor briefly mentioned the building's theatrical past:

"Nearly all the oldtime professional people have appeared on Piper's stage--Booth, Barrett, McCullough, Jefferson, Grant, Greeley, John L., Paddy Ryan, and Jem Mace. Belasco ran the stage for two years, so did Boucicault. The old bill rooms show Tony Pastor, Pat Riley, Harrigan and Hart and the old Wheel Burlesque.

"On the tragedy end there are bullet holes in adjoining rooms that tell grim tales. Just as Frank Mayo got through in playing 'Davy Crockett' one night the Vigilantes brought in a man and hung him till he was dead from Piper's convenient gallery--but that's in the old days--today it's a refined motion picture show."

Piper's Opera House

Interior photo from the Theatre Talks Collection, please ask permission to copy and/or reuse.

Cezar Del Valle is the author of the Brooklyn Theatre Index, chosen 2010 Best Book of the Year by the Theatre Historical Society.

He is available for theatre talks and walks in 2013.


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