Printer Friendly

After just 71 years, Woodland's opera house is back in business.

After just 71 years, Woodland's opera house is back in business

From 1896 to 1913, the Woodland Opera House was the pride of all Yolo County. When a new troupe rolled into Woodland, California, on the Southern Pacific Railroad, folks from as far away as Guinda and Esparto dressed in finery and headed into town by carriage for the performance. The variety shows and melodramas were often just as good as those in nearby Sacramento, and they sure beat sitting around the parlor on a Saturday night.

Today, you can glimpse the heyday of small-town American theater in Woodland, a quick stop off Interstate 80 just 11 miles north of Davis. Now a state historic park and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the opera house is in its final phase of restoration. Docent-led tours are given four days a week, and fall performances begin September 28.

Like most small California theaters of its day, the Woodland Opera House presented very few real operas. People preferred melodramas, comic lectures, Shakespearean recitals, minstrel and magic shows, revival meetings, political rallies, and popular plays. Balcony seats cost a dime or quarter, the best seats usually all of a dollar.

After some 300 performances in 17 years, the opera house--at Second Street and Dead Cat Alley--fell on hard times. It closed in 1913, done in by competition from movies and a personal-injury lawsuit. For nearly 60 years, the place stood vacant, its slumber interrupted only by vagrants, and by fires in 1937 and 1955.

Yet these circumstances helped save it. While other historic theaters of the same period were razed or converted to movie houses, the Woodland Opera House remained in suspended animation. Restoration began in 1971 and is still underway.

On the free 45-minute tour (offered weekends anytime between 2 and 4, Mondays and Tuesdays between 10 and 2), you'll see graffiti written by performers in the dressing rooms. Trap doors lead from these rooms to the stage above; they helped confound audiences during magicians' disappearing acts.

And you'll learn about some of the performers who stopped here for one-week or one-night stands; they included John Philip Sousa and his band, and Jack Cooke, "the wonderful boy preacher.' Restoring the seating to near the original house capacity of 644 awaits the successful completion of a $750,000 fund drive by Woodland groups and the California State Parks Foundation.

The opera house's fall performances are scheduled to start September 28 and 30 with the musical The Legend of Julia Bulette. For details on the half-dozen programs scheduled through winter, call (916) 666-9617 weekday mornings.

Woodland is a town of 32,000, a mile off Interstate 5. From the intersection of State Highway 113 and Main Street, go 1/4 mile west on Main and look for the opera house sign.

Photo: Romance of the theater is captured in opera house's program logo from 1905

Photo: Gaslight control panel at stage left mixed oxygen with gas to create footlights and house lights. Tour explores the whole building: stage, balcony, dressing rooms

Photo: Restored arched entrance leads to two-story opera house. Walls still have original brick

Photo: Theatergoers await dance performance held this spring. Temporary seating is on folding chairs
COPYRIGHT 1984 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Date:Oct 1, 1984
Previous Article:The bass are bigger, the weather's cooler at Lake Isabella northeast of Bakersfield.
Next Article:Antique hunting in San Francisco.

Related Articles
pounds 15m bond boost for Touchstone.
ChevronTexaco Launches New Opera Information Center Web Site; Sponsor of the Arts for 63 Years Helps Bring Opera to a New Generation Online.
Victory in battle to preserve woodland.
New homes in peril as 1,100 jobs axed; Leading housebuilder lays off staff as credit crunch bites.
Elisabeth S/derstr/m; OBITUARY.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2016 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters