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To return Lead's Historic Homestake Opera House to its original splendor; to enrich the community and offer cultural opportunities for years to come. The Historic Homestake Opera House Society, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, was founded in 1996. The Historic Homestake Opera House Society is dedicated to the restoration, use and preservation for future generations of the Opera House, based upon the steadfast belief that this once-thriving creative center is one cornerstone for the preservation, renewal and development of the Lead community.
In 1914, Phoebe Apperson Hearst, widow of mining magnate George Hearst, established the Homestake Opera House and Recreation Building on Lead?s Main Street. An ardent philanthropist with a particular interest in the education and well-being of children, Mrs. Hearst wanted to build a facility that would improve the lives of Lead?s hard-rock gold miners and their families. Thomas Johnston Grier, superintendent of Hearst?s Homestake Mine, conceived the idea of the Homestake Opera House and Recreation Center as a way for Homestake to reward the mining town that had produced so much of the company?s wealth. He enlisted Mrs. Hearst?s support, and in 1911 they began laying plans for the opera house and recreation center. They hired the Chicago architectural firm Shattuck and Hussey to design the complex. The Homestake Opera House and Recreation Center opened its doors in 1914. The building offered Lead?s residents a grand auditorium, a bowling alley, an indoor swimming pool, a library, social rooms and a billiard hall. With its broad stairways, high ceilings and elaborate trim work, the Homestake Opera House was an enormous source of pride for the young city. The citizens dubbed the Homestake Opera House ?The Jewel of the Black Hills.? The facility took its place as the social, recreational and cultural heart of the Lead-Deadwood area. During the early years, the Opera House stage hosted touring opera singers, vaudeville acts, stage plays and athletic events. Some 20,000 people per month attended performances in the theater, the Lead Daily Call reported in 1921. About 2,000 people per month swam in the heated swimming pool, and 3,000 per month used the six-lane bowling alley.?It has been reported by people who know, that this is the finest building of its kind erected by any industrial concern in the United States,? a reporter for the Lead Daily Call wrote in 1921. Since restoration began, thousands of people have toured the theater and attended performances. Others have used the restored lobbies for class reunions, wedding receptions and graduation receptions. On April 2, 1984, Lead?s worst fears were realized. A fire began in the Wurlitzer pipe organ room early in the afternoon. The flames spread quickly up the walls into the curtains and rigging above the stage. The fire then found its way into the building?s wood-frame attic. About 70 firefighters from all over the Northern Hills battled the blaze. However, they were unable to stop the flames before serious damage occurred. The roof collapsed, sending timbers and chandeliers onto the floor, which collapsed into the swimming pool below the theater. Much progress has been made. Donations and grants have come in from a number of foundations and agencies to help in the restoration effort. Nearly $3 million has been raised and spent in the restoration effort. In fact, the structure has been rebuilt to the point where live music and theatrical performances are once again being staged in the Homestake Opera House. However, much more needs to be done. The balcony and theater boxes have been framed but not finished. A skeleton of bare wooden studs now stand where the elaborate plaster cherubs and decorative designs once adorned the interior. The walls are still blackened by smoke 25 years after the fire. Any grant, gift or financial investment from you will help make this dream a reality. Your money will be a worthy investment in bringing new life to this Jewel of the Black Hills and a new sense of purpose for this once-thriving community. In addition, a $370,000 grant from Save America?s Treasures, a matching grant program administered through the National Park Service, helped pay for adequate electrical service, a new elevator, a new stairway, accessible restrooms and life-safety improvements such as fire escapes and a sprinkler system. This work was completed in July 2006. The generosity of several agencies, foundations and individuals has funded the work that has been done to date. In addition, 997 Society members have made charitable contributions to the Homestake Opera House. Volunteers have spent 2,500 hours in moving the restoration project forward. We estimate that another $3.5 million will be required to finish the work. For large donors, the Historic Homestake Opera House Society has set aside a number of named giving opportunities. The Opera House theater, the courtyard and other parts of the building could be named in honor of the corporation, foundation or individual whose generosity has made this restoration possible.
- Sarah Carlson
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