Created By: Coleman Memorial Museum
105 Main - Ellendale Opera House
This beautiful 3-story brick structure—listed on the National Register of Historic Places—was built following the 1908 fire that destroyed much of Ellendale west of Main Street. Local businessmen believed that an Opera House, with spacious rooms for businesses at street level, abundant office space on the second level, and a grand ballroom-type theater gracing the top, would help make Ellendale a first-class cultural and business center. Local businesses--not just those that would be housed in the building—gave generously to see the project through to an extremely quick completion in February 1909. The grand opening featured plays given by the Chase-Lister Theater Company. Literally thousands of special events, including dramas, orchestras, lectures, dances, boxing and wrestling matches, roller skating parties, receptions, etc, would be held in the following decades.
The second story had offices along the south side, which were rented to attorneys, dentists and doctors. The main part of the auditorium floor was for seating when plays and shows were held. The seating capacity, including the boxes, was about 1000. The chairs could be removed to provide room for dancing. The third story was the balcony seating and several rooms and offices.
In the years that followed, the auditorium was used for high school plays and graduations, college plays and debates, dances, basketball games, wrestling and boxing matches, 4-H rallies, roller skating and other social events that required the spacious environment the building offered.
The building was eventually left empty in the 1980s after the roof began to leak and the remaining businesses vacated the building. The building’s future looked dim until a non-profit organization, O.P.E.R.A., Inc. took ownership from the city and began the restoration project. Since 2002 they have put on a new roof, rebuilt a portion of the back wall, and have renovated a section of the main street business space for a theatre for the performing arts, an exhibit hall for artists, and a community room. This room is called the Opera House Lobby because it will become the lobby for the auditorium once it is restored. It will house the elevator which will take guests to the second and third floors.
Presently the Lobby is used for Art Exhibits, theatrical performances and private parties. In 2007 an Artists’ Showcase was held there. Art media from 15 local artists, past and present, was on display. 700 people attended the Showcase during the weekend of Ellendale’s 125th Celebration. North Dakota Governor John Hoeven was a special guest and in addition to his attendance at the Walk of Fame ceremonies and reception was given a tour of the Opera House upper stories. Since that time the room has been used for Art Exhibits from the North Dakota Museum of Art, a traveling Smithsonian exhibit, regional artists’ displays, music programs, theatrical productions and private parties.
A new façade around the front windows was put on in 2010. A new subfloor was put down in the second floor auditorium, which allows the space to be used for theatrical productions and music programs. This larger theater can seat more people than the Lobby on the main level.
O.P.E.R.A., Inc. is determined to bring the magnificent structure back to its grandeur and make it useful to the community once again. The restoration is being done by a group of dedicated volunteers, with the help of grants, donations and fund raising events. If you’d like to visit the Opera House, stop by Crabtree Insurance or the Calico Cat to arrange a tour. These businesses are also located on Main Street, west of Hwy 281 and near the Opera House.
This point of interest is part of the tour: Ellendale Area Driving Tour