On Wednesday, July 2, 1913, the Telluride Daily Journal reported that “the new Segerberg Theatre, one of the prettiest and best appointed show houses in the state, was opened to the public last night as a picture show theatre.” Readers welcomed the announcement. The morning paper had been spoiling their breakfasts for the past several months by serving up a steady diet of unpalatable news. A Balkan conflict was threatening a delicate European stability. Several local families were mourning the loss of their children to scarlet fever. And to top it off, the town’s health inspector had notified citizens that while the water supply was not “absolutely dangerous” it was “somewhat dangerous” and should be boiled before use. But for a dime, people could go to the theatre, enjoy a vaudeville show or a movie, and forget their troubles for a while.
Built next to the posh New Sheridan Hotel, the unassuming red brick Segerberg Theatre [later dubbed the Sheridan Opera House] gained a reputation as the town’s cultural and social nexus. People went there to be entertained, to see and be seen, and to enjoy each other’s company. Well known actors and public figures, such as Sarah Bernhardt, Lillian Gish, and presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs have graced the stage. Eventually, the intimate venue came to be known as “Telluride’s living room.”
When commercial development threatened the historic structure in 1991, concerned citizens formed the Sheridan Arts Foundation. Members not only rescued the theater, they ensured and perpetuated its use as a cultural center. The SAF subsidizes rental fees for nonprofit organizations that use the opera house and allows Telluride’s public schools—which cut funding for drama programs—to use the facility for free. Each year the SAF hosts a number of community events, such as the Telluride Film Festival, Wild West Fest, the Telluride Jazz Celebration, the Bluegrass Festival, the Chamber Music Festival, the Blues and Brews Festival, and many more.
Perhaps more importantly, parents can watch their children perform with the Young People’s Theater group in a graceful and dignified setting.“ It is hard to explain just how much an initiation into the Telluride thespian community it is for a young person to appear on stage at the opera house,” explained Wendy Brooks, director of the Telluride Academy. “There are other venues that are cheap, ordinary, unlit, but when one makes it onto the opera house stage, they feel important, empowered, and very proud.”
Perpetuating this cultural legacy required planning and a lot of hard work. In 1999, A-E Design Associates, P.C., and L. Taylor Lohr Architect, Inc., produced a master plan that itemized and prioritized the building’s preservation needs. The SAF received two State Historical Fund grants to address problems identified in the structural assessment. Working with A-E Design, L. Taylor Lohr, and Felicia Harmon of KRH Group, general contractor Klinke and Lew supervised the rehabilitation of the opera house’s exterior façade, roof, and landmarked interior. SAF provided 44 percent of the $435,600 second-phase budget—an impressive contribution from a nonprofit organization.
Today Telluride is recognized nationwide as a mountain haven for theater and film lovers. But the town did not earn its reputation overnight. Today’s success is the sum total of individual plays, movies, and musical productions presented in the Sheridan Opera House over the course of eight decades. In Telluride, culture is the 1913 moving picture When Luck Changes, “bristling with western adventure and thrilling situations,” and the 2003 Young People’s Theatre production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. And history is a dime matinee during World War I and yesterday’s second-grade music program.