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[graphic] Three Historic Nevada Cities Carson City, Reno, Virginia City A National Register of Historic Places Travel Itinerary
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[photo] Piper's Opera House has tours and shows today
Photo by Rebecca Ossa, Courtesy of Nevada State Historic Preservation Office
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.

[photo] 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 DLC

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 Cultural Affairs.

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.

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