During the last 20 years of the 19th century, Piper's Opera House served
as one of the centers of cultural activity in the Comstock and the West.
It was an important stopping point for theatrical tours of North America
throughout the last half of the 19th and early 20th century. In 1863,
John Piper purchased the brick office block that already stood at this
location, now the entrance portion of the opera house, and established
a saloon. Piper became one of the most influential theater owners in the
West and ran numerous theaters in Reno, Truckee, Carson City and San Francisco,
and maintained his own traveling troop. After the great fire of 1875 destroyed
his first Virginia City theater (at another location), Piper built a second
theater here, to the rear of the saloon. This theater also burned in 1883
after which Piper rebuilt the current opera house in 1885. The auditorium
is a large rectangular room with a floor mounted on springs, a suspended
horseshoe-shaped balcony and two-story box seats on either side of the
stage. John Mackay, wealthy mining magnate and one of the Comstock's "kings,"
was an honored guest at Piper's Opera House, with a private box and staircase
for his exclusive use. The hallmark of late 19th-century stage performances
was variety. A typical season at Piper's included performances of Shakespeare
starring prominent American and British touring actors, in addition to
acts by popular chanteuses, minstrel shows and other performers.
Piper's Opera House has tours and
Photo by Rebecca Ossa,
Courtesy of Nevada State Historic Preservation Office
On-going restoration work on the opera house began in the 1960s by John
Piper's great granddaughter. Much of the interior furnishings and stage
equipment remains intact, including the beautiful hand-painted back-drop
scenery. An archeological excavation was conducted in 1998 at Piper's
Old Corner Bar, a business located at the southeast corner of the building.
Nearly 100,000 artifacts related to the saloon business were uncovered.
Rehabilitation work continues, thanks to a
Save America's Treasures grant and other funding from the National
Park Service's Historic Preservation Fund and the Nevada Commission for
View of Opera house from 1940
Photo by Arthur Rothstein, Courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints
& Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, LC-USF34-029664-D
Piper's Opera House is located at 1 North B St. in Virginia City. Call
775-847-0433 for tour appointments or a current schedule of shows.