Restoration continues decades after fire for Lead’s Historic Homestake Opera House

LEAD S.D. – More than three decades after a devastating fire set light to one of the most iconic buildings in South Dakota, the Historic Homestake Opera House (HHOH) is returning to it’s original grandeur.

The 24,000-sq. ft. building is listed within the historic district of Lead, SD on the National Register of Historic Places, and is designated a National Landmark of American Music. The iconic structure currently hosts 40 dates annually dedicated to theatrical, musical, and educational programs and tours with 10,000 attendees per year.  

The Historic Opera House & Recreation Building was a gift to the City of Lead in 1914, when philanthropist and Homestake Mining Company owner Phoebe Hearst had it built for the company. For the next 70 years, it remained the “Jewel of the Black Hills,” featuring a 1,000 seat world-class theater, heated indoor swimming pool, library, shooting range, social hall, and bowling alley.

“This historic facility was created by early leaders of the Homestake Mine and Lead to give miners, merchants and their families a place to experience entertainment as well as gain knowledge and culture,” said Jay Jacobs, president of the HHOH board of directors. “Our building represents a significant example of what one does to develop and maintain culture within a community. It is why great cities or communities since the founding of Alexandria in Egypt and before have done such work. It is important to retain history.”

On April 2, 1984, a fire devastated the theater which then sat empty for more than a decade. Restoration efforts began in 1998 with the purchase of the building and the formation of the nonprofit HHOH Society. During the last 20 years, nearly $4 million has been raised and spent on restoration, renovations, programming, and operations.

“The HHOH continues to make progress, although much of this progress is not visual,” said Jacobs. “We have been working with TSP Inc. to finalize a phased plan for restoration and rehabilitation of our building. There has been much thought and effort in constructing a plan to restore the historical elegance of our facility, yet ensure that we modernize to comply with ADA and safety standards while embracing current technology such as new sound system and lights.”

“It is extremely important to the board that we preserve our building’s historic grandeur, but also ensure our facility has utility — a platform to continue to serve the community,” Jacobs added.

The building received a $375,000 Infrastructure and Capacity Building Challenge Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) that intends to generate $1.125 million in private donations. Supporters and staff of the HHOH are identifying potential contributors to assist in funding infrastructure upgrades in order to advance the rehabilitation efforts at the historic building.

“The excitement is seeing the physical change in the theater, and that’s what’s most impressive to those who use this facility,” said HHOH Development Director Sarah Carlson. “We do what we can with what we have, and incrementally, we have been making significant changes and we’re seeing this work pay off. People are getting involved.”

The experiences and memories people have had in the building in addition to the recent NEH challenge grant are causing advocates of the arts and supporters of the Homestake Opera House to reconnect with the facility and consider their own contribution to a place that has made memories for more than a century, according to Carlson.

Carlson noted that the project’s most immediate challenge is raising nearly $400,000 in private donations between now and next July to take full advantage of the NEH grant. Prospective donors should understand that their contributions will receive a proportional match from the NEH and assist in the long-term advancement of restoration and programming activities at the famed facility.

“This programming is a greater root of our cause. The elegance of our history well deserves our efforts to restore the beauty of the Jewel of the Black Hills. And our ability to provide tours, programming and events are good for commerce in Lead and the surrounding area. The greatest benefit is having this place for our community to experience and enjoy […]” said Jacobs.

For more information, to make a gift, or to discuss a contribution, visit homestakeoperahouse.org or call 605-584-2067.

Categories: Local News, South Dakota News

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