Opera House mural turns back time

Opera House mural east end

“History of the Opera House” mural takes onlookers back 90 years in time.

Relive 90 years of opera house history at 1002 Main

Who says you can’t turn back time? At “History of the Opera House” mural, time rewinds. The mural tells the story of Goodland’s Grand Opera House and its tenants. Stroll through 90 years of history. The east end starts with Hodgkinson’s Merchantile from 1906 and runs through Q’s Pool Hall in 1996.

The mural nearly didn’t happen. Grant funding for the two-story, 100-foot long mural fell through. The building owner, Rod Cooper, agreed to fund the project, which took over a year, from 2011-12. First, Cooper had to ensure the wall was in good repair. Then Chief Artist Elwyn Vatcher painted the top half of the mural brown and the bottom half — the store fronts — white. Then he and Shirley Houston, Laurie Albin and Jacquelynn Gulley, a high school senior, started painting.

The windows above the storefronts show activities that took place in the Grand Opera House, such as singing, roller skating, dancing and wrestling. The upstairs windows on the west are not historical. The upper western window shows Goodland’s “Three Sunflowers in a Vase, one of the World’s Largest Paintings on an Easel. The lower one shows building owner Cooper, owner of Crazy R’s Bar and Grill, with his family.

Leg shows and election returns

The Grand Opera House stood 50X100 feet on the street and nearly three stories high. The first floor held businesses and the upper floors were the opera house. Opera House patrons arrived via a double stairway, one side for upstairs and the other for downstairs. The opera house featured a large stage, dressing rooms, U-shaped balcony with box, main floor (parquet) seating and a box office.

The opera house held its grand opening Dec. 10, 1906, with a performance of “The Nature’s Nobleman”. First night prices were expensive: $3 for a box seat; $2 for a parquet; $1 for gallery. Once a “leg show” featuring 110 dancing girls was held here. The most famous person to perform in the opera house was Milburn Stone, who later played “Doc” in the long-running TV Western Gunsmoke. Politicians came to speak and Goodland citizens gathered to learn the election returns. Local returns were written on a large blackboard and national results arrived via a special telegraph service. Radio’s advent made the gatherings obsolete.

Even though building was named Grand Opera House, an actual opera probably never played here. Venues named opera houses were considered respectable places where ladies could enter. Any other venue would have been considered a male-only preserve, a place where a respectable lady could never enter. How a “leg show” fit into Edwardian Era respectability is another question.

The building’s current tenant is Goodland Churches Thrift Shop. All proceeds from the thrift shop go to help those in need. Buy something and support local charities. Open Monday-Friday 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Albin also painted Bygone Days on the Bricks. She restored the mural on the back wall of the Sherman Theatre. Also view Art Deco splendor at United Telephone Building, across the street from the mural’s east end. The old First National Bank Building, site of the armed climax to the County Seat Fight, is one block to the south.


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