The Wheeler Opera House, named for benefactor Jerome Byron Wheeler, was completed and opened to the public in 1889. From its inception, the Opera House was a multi-use building, encompassing not only the third-floor theatre, but also commercial storefronts, bank, office, restaurant, and storage space. Owned and operated by the City of Aspen, the Wheeler Opera House remains one of the best known performance venues in the country.
The Wheeler Opera House project began as a program study and concept design for a new performing arts facility on a vacant parcel next to the Wheeler, along with interior improvements to the existing historic structure. Principals and staff of Mills + Schnoering Architects (M+Sa) managed and led the initial concept design effort. M+Sa subsequently completed work with local partner Rowland + Broughton to update first floor and basement spaces, creating a new restaurant and administrative offices for the Opera House while preserving the building’s historic character. M+Sa followed this work with reconstruction of the balcony of the Opera House on an extremely compressed schedule. The project included a new balcony structure and finishes, control booth, seating, HVAC upgrades, and emergency lighting, as well as significant technology upgrades to eliminate existing 35mm film technology in favor of a state-of-the-art digital cinema projection system, and the addition of efficient LED lighting to the auditorium. Design services were provided on a fast-track basis to facilitate construction, which was completed within a three-month period.
Recently, M+Sa restored the Wheeler’s exterior and designed building infrastructure improvements. This work included mechanical, electrical, and plumbing upgrades; freight elevator upgrades; a new loading door; and exterior masonry repairs and replacement. M+Sa worked with the City to source appropriate replacement stones and developed setting details; masonry cleaning protocols; and wood and metal replacement and repair details.