by Joan Upton Hall
A 1900s vintage photo shows the Opera House sharing the building with
a saloon and, as the website says, “performed many forms of entertainment.”
But this iniquitous situation led to the theatre’s demise.
Carry Nation came to Granbury
and established a Women’s Christian Temperance Union. She led the
townswomen to force the closing of saloons and other businesses connected
with them. The Opera House closed in 1911 and lay abandoned and empty
for 64 years.
Mary Kate Durham, who was the Box Office Manager from the time of
the reopening, has lived in Granbury
all her life. She remembers of all the buildings around the Square,
the Opera House was the last to be restored. She said that when the
owner finally put it up for sale, Joe Nutt (of the famous Nutt House
hotel and restaurant) bought it and began looking for backers to restore
it as a theatre. He found plenty, but by the time citizens banded
together, the stone walls were almost all that was left.
Jo Ann Miller, experienced in theatre business, saw it while visiting
a friend she had known in New York. As she told Mrs. Durham later,
“…and I never got to go home!” Miller organized the non-profit Granbury
Opera Association, and restoration was completed at a cost of a half-million
dollars, all paid for with private money. At last, the curtain rose
again in 1975. Miller stayed on as Managing Director for 21 years.
The very first summer, she set a precedent that has continued. They
hired a director from Tarleton State, who hired college students to
do work in-training. Earning only a pittance, the students called
their terrible dormitory “Opera Hilton.” While building sets and making
costumes, they presented a new show every two weeks — all for the
chance to work with seasoned professionals, brought in from such theatres
as Casa MaÒana in Fort
Worth. Today’s summer seasons include internship of college students
from all over Texas and even from other
states. These interns receive housing, a small stipend, and college
credit. Director Van Kleek said, “Our interns play leading roles in
our musicals and work alongside performers with Broadway credits.
We are very proud that many of our interns have made a career in theatre.”
Ms. Van Kleek herself was one of the first students.
the complex consists of the theatre itself, an improved company dormitory,
a structure for housing scenes and props, dressing rooms, and rehearsal
space, and a building for costume construction and storage of an extensive
costume collection. All are debt-free, and the yearly income of the
Opera House is $700,000+.
Communities that want to know how to promote their town as a destination
for tourism could go to school on what the community of Granbury
does, and how well each business supports the others. People at the
Opera House are apt to say something like, “Don’t forget our Brazos
Drive-in Theatre (a ‘50s thing, one of the few still in operation)
and Granbury Live (‘Branson on the Brazos’).” The centerpiece of Granbury’s
success is the Opera House, one of the state’s oldest theatres. Its
preservation “just in the nick of time” was perhaps what united the
Whenever you come here, don’t let the small size fool you. This 303-seat
dynamo becomes even more impressive when you learn 75,000 people attend
per year. The Texas Tourist Commission estimates the Opera House brings
in more than 4.5 million dollars to the small town of Granbury
© Joan Upton Hall
Published with Permission from GRAND
OLD TEXAS THEATERS
by Joan Upton Hall and Stacey Hasbrook