It started with an article in the April 10, 1895, Delta Independent. “The derrick was put in place Monday for laying the foundation stone of the Simpson block, on the corner of Third and Main streets.
It is now understood that J.F. Sanders has purchased the adjoining lot, and that the building will be made to front 50 feet on Main Street, and that the second story will be fitted up for an opera house.”
For much of 44 years, the Anna-Dora Opera House served as the cultural and social center of life in Delta. Indeed, who would think an opera house could thrive in this small western Colorado town of only 836 residents?
In the year 1897, Mr. Thomas Kearns, a talented and famous figure in the musical show world sought a dry, recuperative climate for his tuberculosis. Knowing of the Anna-Dora Opera House, he made his way to Delta. His urban and show business life had not prepared him for the Anna-Dora with a small stage, two dressing rooms, and slipshod footlights made of a tin trough holding oil lamps. The curtains were bed sheets, of all things! Yet, Mr. Kearns stayed and took over the management of the Anna-Dora, extending his performing abilities to playing the violin, singing and dramatic readings. Mr. Kearns called in a few favors from his city friends and “The Mikado” was staged, using local and New York support for actors and production. What a rousing success it was, and the cultural yearnings of Delta citizens were stimulated. The next years brought “H.M.S. Pinafore,” “A Colonial Extravaganza” and “Broadway Reviews.” Mr. Kearns passed away on April 22, 1904, and left behind a cultural legacy which is written in Delta’s history.
From 1896 to 1921 the Anna-Dora was an exciting and famous entertainment palace. Patrons came from as far away as Salt Lake and Denver to attend! In tandem with the Anna-Dora, and less than a block away, was the Delta House hotel, known far away for wonderful food and clean guest rooms.
The Anna-Dora was the cultural center of Delta, but it served many other uses as well. A May 26, 1897, notice in the Delta Independent stated: ”The commencement exercises of the Delta High School will take place in the opera house tomorrow evening at 8:30 o’clock. The class consists of three this year: Miss Alice M. Hill, Messrs. S. Alonzo Lewis and Benj. K. Ingersoll. The opera house should be crowded to its utmost capacity as the admission is only 10 cents — usually 25 cents in most places.” For many years, the Anna-Dora was the meeting place of Delta. It was the only meeting room large enough to hold public meetings such as school functions, plays, socials and even the earliest picture shows.
The pace changed in Delta in 1921, as the new high school was built (now Performing Arts Center). The marvelous new auditorium seated 750 people, and the stage even had an orchestra pit, stage spotlights and a beautiful red velvet curtain. Not exactly the bed sheets of the Anna-Dora. The Anna-Dora fell out of favor and before long it became a storage room for the Delta Hardware Store, one story below. At one time, even early automobiles were sold from the second floor of the hardware store, moved up and down by means of a large elevator. Unfortunately for those of us who admire the unique old buildings of Delta, the original Delta Hardware and also the Anna-Dora burned on the cold morning of Dec. 27, 1939. The hardware store was rebuilt reusing some of the original Delta Brick, but the Anna-Dora was never revitalized. In the late 1990s, local artist Richard Doherty was commissioned by the City of Delta to paint a memorial mural of the Anna-Dora on the north side of the building, still occupied at that time by Delta Hardware. It is a fine rendition of life in the late 1800s, and reminds us of the importance of Delta’s very own opera house.